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Once a Thief Always a Thief

Chapter Text

“Ah hell,” Marinette cursed under her breath. She pulled an artifact from the half-assed packing material and suppressed an internal rant. The preparator from London who packaged the artifact for the exhibit did a terrible job, and now she was going to have to explain why the scepter of Tutankhamun was missing the crystal sphere from its crook.

Juleka, her assistant, poked her head around another box. She scrutinized the condition of the scepter with her usual emotionless indifference.

“Call in a favor to Max,” Marinette sighed, before laying the scepter back into the box. “I’m going to write a scathing letter to the curator at the museum in London, they are going to hear about this.”

Juleka nodded and began furiously typing away at her iPad. “What should I tell Max?”

“Tell him I need the new conservator down here asap, and to sweet talk her for me because she hates my guts.”

“I suppose I should include your usual bribe?” asked Juleka in a disinterested monotone.

“Tell him I’ll bring him breakfast from my parent’s bakery all week if he does this for me.” Marinette breathed a sigh and set the box on the cart labeled for items that needed fixing.

Her museum was running an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, having just received the exhibition pieces from their previous show in a London museum. Except now her schedule was compromised because one of the pieces was damaged due to poor handling and care. She cast a look at the myriad of other boxes that still needed to be catalogued for inventory.

“Juleka, can you check over the other pieces, and call me once you finish inventory? I’ll be back in an hour; I have a meeting with Ms. Bourgeois.”

Her assistant gave half a nod.

Marinette shuddered at the thought of her upcoming meeting. Chloe Bourgeois, the Mayor’s daughter, was one of their sponsors and apparently she was “unhappy about something,” and her boss decided it was her job to smooth things out. Not that it’s going to matter anyway, she thought bitterly. Chloe always found something to be pissed off about, and nothing Marinette said or did would change that.

She spared one more look at the boxes and Juleka, who was nosing through said boxes, decided that inventory was in good hands and headed off towards the front of the building.

Along the way she passed by the roped off section of the museum that was being renovated for the Egyptian exhibit she was overseeing. She felt a swell of pride at the sight of the opaque plastic sheets obscuring the view, and the neat little signs with Egyptian themes telling guests what to anticipate. This would be her biggest and most prestigious show since becoming a museum curator. She was still pretty young, only twenty-seven, and the success of this exhibit would be the nail that either made or broke her career.

Her heels clicked against the polished tile as she strode on by. The usual security guard waved to her on the way out, and she flashed him a friendly smile. She stepped out into the afternoon sun, sucked in a lungful of fresh air, and attempted to expel her dread along with it. Her eyes fluttered closed as she let the air escape through her nose and started down the steps toward the parking garage.

Don’t screw this up. It’s just Chloe. She opened her eyes again just in time to dodge the man standing in front of her. But failed to land the last step of the stairs and ended up diving nose first into the concrete instead.

“Ow, ow… ow.” Marinette hissed as she brushed off her clothes and sat back on her knees, giving her appearance a quick assessment.

“Are you okay?” The man, whom she spared a tackle in favor of becoming intimate with the ground, turned to offer her a hand.

“Yeah, nothing’s broken.” She poked a finger through the newly acquired hole torn in the sleeve of her blazer and wiggled it around. It was a small tear, she could easily mend it, and she had a spare blazer in her car in case of emergencies. Given her level of klutziness, and how frequently she managed to spill coffee on herself, a change of clothing was a necessary precaution.

“Did I cause that?” The man sounded genuinely concerned, so she took his hand letting him haul her back on her feet.

“It’s not your fault,” Marinette amended, and tried to hide the damage. She tilted her head to look at him. “It’s nothing I can’t fix...” her words trailed off and died in the back of her throat.

“Are you sure? I can pay to fix that. Hell, I can buy you a new one.”

She didn’t even hear his words. Her eyes were too busy darting over the contours of his face and sending a cacophony of signals to her brain that she was unable to sort out. Helpful Man was blonde, and tall, kinda tall, taller than her, but she was sorta short. He was also handsome, with a cut jaw and swooping nose line. He had eyes like wheat grass in the sunshine and perfect brows that were scrunched together in concern.

He asked me something. I need to reply. What did he ask? Marinette couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d seen this man before. His face was so familiar it was starting to make her itch. Her eyes made another pass over his face, reminding her that he was still waiting for an answer.

“Yes,” she assured him, hoping that was the correct response to whatever it was that he asked.

“You’re sure it’s not my fault, or yes, I can pay to replace it?” he asked for clarification. The expression on his face softened a little bit now that she was speaking again instead of staring at him like an idiot.

“Yes, I-No! My fault! Don’t replace it!” Her sudden outburst startled them both. She had to scrunch her eyes shut and look down just to unscramble her thoughts. “I gotta go, I’m late.” She stepped away from him so fast she almost tripped again, but caught herself this time. He called after her but she was already away and escaping.

A quick glance at her phone told her she had less than a half hour to change and meet Chloe. She didn’t have time to fumble over words in front of a handsome stranger whom she swore up and down she’d seen before.

“Only you have the talent required to make a fool of yourself in front of everybody,” she chastised under her breath. She managed to weave her way through the parking garage and make it to her car without any more mishaps. She unlocked the door with more force than was necessary, growling under her breath. “Way to make impressions, Marinette. What are you? Fifteen? Is this high school where you drop your books in front of a hot guy and blush shamelessly while he picks them up for you?” She tossed her purse into the passenger seat and plopped down behind the wheel.

Marinette started the ignition of her little yellow Fiat Panda and pulled out of the parking garage aggressively. It took a few minutes to regain her composure, and when she expelled a breath it disturbed some of her bangs that had settled on her nose. She passed by a couple streets, and checked her phone to confirm the address she was supposed to meet Chloe. When Marinette looked up again she was passing by a billboard with a Men’s fashion ad.

“Shit!” She slammed the breaks out of shock and realization, and sent a simultaneous prayer thanking God that no one was behind her. “That was Adrien Agreste.”

0000

Her meeting with Chloe took more than an hour, in fact it took three hours. By the time she finished placating their sponsor it was already dark.

The Parisian night life was in full swing, cars zipping up and down the street when Marinette stepped out of the Le Grande Paris hotel and signaled the valet to bring her car around. She checked the time on her phone, showing just past nine, and saw several texts from Juleka informing her boss that she had finished inventory and even emailed her a draft of the scathing letter Marinette intended to write.

There was another text informing her that Max was staying late to work on the security programs for the Egyptian exhibit and that he was hungry and calling in that favor Marinette promised.

“The bakery is closed,” she mumbled to herself. “Max is just gonna have to settle for cheap take out.”

Regardless she made good on her promise, when she got her car from the valet she picked up Greek takeout on her way back to the museum. The parking garage was nearly vacant at this hour, so she had no trouble finding a parking space near the exit and under a bright security light.

The night security guards at the front desk gave her friendly nods when Marrinette flashed her ID at them, and she hurried on by into the darkened halls of the museum towards the wing with all the offices. She passed by her own office on the way, and cast a longing look at the dark neglected interior. Once upon a time, it was organized and professional looking. Now it was a mess, with paperwork lining every surface of her desk and large blueprints pinned to all the walls.

Her destination was an office second from the end, and the lights were still on inside. Well, Max is still here. Marinette crept up to the doorway and poked her head inside. Just as she suspected Max was bent over his desk typing furiously into his keyboard, surrounded by empty cola cans and candy wrappers. His glasses were sitting comically on the end of his nose, tape holding the center together because Marinette had knocked them off his face a week ago, and then proceeded to step on them. All by accident, but the replacement set had yet to come in. He was wearing an olive-green button down, suspenders, and brown slacks. His usual tweed jacket was thrown over the back of his swivel chair and there was stubble along his jaw hinting to her that he had been in that office for over twenty-four hours.

“Would it kill you to go home and sleep?” She asked, stepping behind him to lay the takeout on top of his impressive collection of candy wrappers.

“I took a nap this morning until lunch time.” He gestured at the swivel chair he was sitting in as if it served as a suitable sleeping spot. “Eight-thirty-two until twelve minutes passed noon, to be precise.” He only paused when the smell of food reached his nose. Max pushed away from his desk and regarded Marinette over the top of his glasses. “This isn’t bakery food,” he criticized.

“Bakery closes at six, Juleka texted the food emergency at seven. I’m really sorry Max, if you don’t like what I got you then I’ll eat it.”

“No, no,” he assured, “this is fine.” The way he said it made it sound like he was doing her a favor, but he pulled the bag of food open too hastily.

“You haven’t eaten all day, have you?”

“I had a protein bar at two,” he mumbled around a mouthful of gyro.

She rolled her eyes, and perched on the edge of his desk. Her gaze glanced around the tiny office before settling on his computer screen. She deduced from the gibberish that he was working on some sort of code for the new exhibit. She looked away after a moment and spared the nerdy man another look.

Max was a longtime friend, she’d gone to school with him, and even back then he was a nerd. He had dark skin and a scrawny build, and his hair was wiry and pulled back in a short poofy ponytail. He used to keep it short, but over the past two years he let it grow out a little. It was a good look, different but good. His taste in clothing left something to be desired, but no matter how much Marinette insisted on helping update his wardrobe, he always refused.

“Any head way with Lila?” Lila was the museum’s new conservator. Max had a thing for her. She seemed to hit it off pretty well with Max, and she hated every cell in Marinette’s body.

“No, I haven’t asked her out on a date. And the next time you ask will probably be a no too.”

Marinette wrinkled her nose at his response, but decided not to press him on it. She’d been giving him a tough time over Lila for months. Max was too chicken to ask her out, and watching him squirm had been an endless source of amusement for her and Juleka.

“I’m gonna go double check the inventory, and put a big obvious sign on the box for Lila so she can’t pretend she didn’t see it in the morning.” She spared one more look at his computer. “Are you gonna pull another all-nighter?”

“No, I just need to finish up a few things, and email Lila for you. If you wait around for an hour I’ll walk you out to your car.”

“Sure.” She smiled warmly. Max knew how uncomfortable the parking garage made her feel in the dead of night, it was a relief that she’d have someone to accompany her.

Marinette left Max to his own devices and exited the office wing. The halls of the museum were dark, only the security lights breaking the inky blackness, barely illuminating the building. She had just passed the roped off area when a prickly feeling started up and down her spine. It was the uncanny feeling someone got when they could swear they were being watched.

A quick glance over her shoulder revealed nothing. So, she darted her eyes around the shadows looking for the source of her trepidation. The feeling intensified when her eyes settled on a corner tucked behind a couple of carved marble pillars. The shadows were thickest in that corner, the security lights failing to even touch it. She knew from memory that there was a door in over there. It was a maintenance door, and it was always locked. Double-triple locked.

But her anxiety told her she needed to check it just in case. Her anxiety also told her to get out of there and make a mad dash back to Max’s office where there was another soul and well-lit safety.

“Suck it up,” she growled under her breath. “This is your job.”

Marinette took a step towards the corner and swore a thousand times she saw the shadows shift. Something or someone was there and stepped behind the pillar. She fumbled in her pocket for her car keys and flicked on the small flashlight keychain she kept handy. The pitiful beam of light pushed against the shadows of the corner, and a few hesitant steps closer it bathed the maintenance door in an eerie blue light. No one was there. She cast the beam around, fished a bottle of pepper spray from her pocket then held it ready in front of her. After a minute of serious debate Marinette worked up the courage to peer behind the pillars. The key light chased the shadows away to reveal once again that no one was there.

Chat burglarShe swallowed the thick lump in her throat and reached a hand for the maintenance door, never once taking her eyes off the rest of her surroundings. A quick try of the handle confirmed that the door was locked tight, and no one could have gone through it just now without her hearing.

“It was just a trick of the light, no one is here, quit being a fraidy cat.” Still she couldn’t shake the prickly feeling that someone was watching her. It felt like icy ants crawling up and down her spine and pooling in the base of her skull.

Sudden foot falls to her right caused her heart to leap into her throat in fright, and a bright beam of light flashed in her face from around a corner. She threw her arms over her face to shield her eyes from the assault, and tried to peer at the figure approaching her.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng?”

Marinette recognized the voice of one of the night guards almost instantly. He dropped the light when he verified it was her and she was all too eager to rush out of the corner and stand next to him. Relative safety at last, she thought.

“We saw you investigating the maintenance door on camera, is everything alright?”

She took a moment to calm her racing heart, trying to make sense of the shadow and anxiety she felt before. “You didn’t see anything on camera, did you?”

“No, but I’d be glad to go back and check if you think you saw something,” offered the guard.

“Yes please,” she said, then noticed the guard’s face adopt a pensive expression, and quickly added, “It was probably nothing, but I’d feel better to have it confirmed. If nothing else it might have been a trick of the light.”

The man nodded, and offered to walk Marinette to the storage room where all the exhibit pieces were being held. She accepted his offer without hesitation. Along the way he radioed his partner to go over the security footage of that corner. The farther they got away from the maintenance door the more the prickly feeling began to fade. By the time they reached the storage rooms the feeling of being watched had completely subsided.

Marinette was quick to go over the inventory. As usual Juleka was thorough and it seemed everything was accounted for and in appropriate shape. That meant the only piece that Lila would need to fix was the scepter, and Marinette covered its box in little vindictive neon-colored sticky notes with Lila’s named scrawled over them in bold letters.

If the witch said she didn’t see the box in the morning she would be a big fat liar. Hopefully Max requesting the favor was enough to butter up the conservator so she’d actually do her job.

Lila and Marinette never got along very well since the conservator started about five months ago. Lila liked to flirt with all the cute guys while on the job, both co-workers and museum patrons. She also liked to flake out on her job, and take long lunches. Her lack of work ethic drove Marinette insane. It also got on her nerves that Lila called her homely. Not to her face, she’d heard the insult second hand from gossip.

Marinette never considered herself homely, she was short, yeah. Only about 5’3” but she wore heals most days so that had to count for something. Her hair was black, but in the right light some people swore it shone blue, which was just fine because she had vivid blue eyes. She supposed her face was nothing extraordinary. Big forehead, small chin, Round nose with a spattering of light freckles over it and her cheeks. She kept her bangs styled so they’d hide her forehead, and most days the rest of her hair was kept in a messy bun because she was too busy to do anything fancy with it.

Most of the clothes she wore were designed by her own two hands. If museum curator didn’t pan out, she could always fall back on being a fashion designer. Or so she hoped. She was proud of her sense of style, and she thought her clothes were cute and professional. Of course, in comparison with Lila’s flirty outfits, Marinette’s attire was considered conservative.

In response to her self-conscious assessment she stared down at her chest and hips. Her chest was sorta small, but her hips more than made up for it. She didn’t quite have Lila’s hourglass figure, but Marinette thought her body was still shapely enough. Being a baker’s daughter meant she was never gonna have a model size waist but she was perfectly content with that. Curvy women still had fantastic appeal.

Why do I even care what Lila thinks? Marinette crushed a sticky note in her hand and let a curse slip out under her breath. Lila had this uncanny ability to strike savage blows at her self-esteem and it was starting to infuriate her.

She plastered a few more petty notes all over the box just to vent some angst, then packed up her things and joined the security guard who was waiting for her out in the hall. She double-triple locked the locks, punched in the security codes, and breathed a sigh of relief that her day was finally over and she could go home and throw back a couple glasses of wine.

She made it back to Max’s office without any issues. The prickly feeling didn’t return when she passed the maintenance door, and the guard bid her a polite farewell.

Marinette poked her head into the office and found Max in the same place she left him before. “You ready to go? ‘Cause I wrapped up my business for tonight and I got a date with Chardonnay.”

“Tall or short?”

“Tall, and it’ll be a threesome with Pinot Noir,” she replied suggestively.

Max locked down his computer and put the screen to sleep, when he pushed away from his desk he wiggled his thick brows playfully. “Sounds hot, any chance I’m invited to watch?”

“Hell no,” she shot back. “Go home and date your own wine.”

Marinette waited for him to gather his bag and toss his tweed jacket over one shoulder. He joined her at the door and locked down his own office before the two of them made their way out of the building. Upon approaching the parking garage, Marinette felt the return of the icy ants crawling over her spine, her gaze darted around so fast she hurt her neck in the process.

“What’s got you so worked up?” asked Max. His gaze followed hers feeding off the curator’s anxiety.

After a thorough scan of their surroundings she still didn’t see anything. No out of place suspicious shadows. No strangers. Nothing. She tried to pass it off as frayed nerves, and shot Max what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

“It’s nothing, I’m just really tired.”

He scrutinized her face for several long seconds, before accepting her explanation. But he still cast a wary glance over his shoulder when they entered the garage just in case someone might have been following them.

Marinette bid her co-worker goodnight and parted ways to their respective cars. Max drove an old American car that she forgot the name of, but it was classy with a long hood. She had to admit she felt infinitely better once she was in her Panda, pulling out of the parking garage. The feeling of being watched dissolved completely once she had put some distance between herself and the museum.

What she didn’t realize was that twice that night she should’ve looked up. Nobody ever looks up.

Chapter Text

Marinette let herself into her apartment a quarter after eleven. She was already kicking her heals off before she made it over the threshold, and pushed the shoes to the side of the entryway. Her blazer was not far behind, getting thrown over the back of a chair. She dumped a stack of mail on her coffee table to sort through after she checked her messages.

She spared a glance at her answering machine. Huh, no messages. It was her secondary phone though; all her business calls went directly to her cell. She paid a trip to the kitchen where she poured herself a glass of chardonnay before limping back into the living room. Happy to get off her feet that ached from wearing heels all day, Marinette flopped onto the couch and began picking through her mail.

A party invitation from Chloe. Flick.

Bills. Flick.

An antiquities magazine. She set that aside to flip through over coffee in the morning.

The rest was a bunch of junk mail. She picked up the invitation from Chloe again. It shouldn’t have been odd, considering Chloe was sponsoring their exhibit, but Marinette still couldn’t believe she actually received an invite from the Mayor’s daughter. It was for some social anniversary, celebrating Chloe being Chloe and doing Chloe things for yet another year. Or so Marinette assumed. The event said there would be a charity fundraiser taking place, so it couldn’t be that bad.

Reluctantly she pulled herself off the couch so she could pin the invite to her refrigerator. Her feet protested with every step and she had to pour herself a second glass of wine after knocking back her first. She had the Chardonnay bottle in hand and was just about to refill her glass when her cell suddenly began ringing and vibrating in her pocket. Like the professional klutz she was, Marinette dropped the bottle. It was a stroke of luck that it didn’t break, but that didn’t stop wine from splashing down the front of her clothes and drenching her feet.

“Swell.” Marinette grabbed the dish towel and dropped it over the wine puddle, then fished her cell phone out and answered it. “Hey, Alya. What’s up?”

“Girl, you sound tired. Did you have a rough night again?” Alya was perceptive as always. She was Marinette’s oldest and closest friend, a journalist by day and a blogger by night, so keen perception came second nature to her.

“Where do I even begin?” Marinette groaned, she stomped the towel around a bit, then marched off to her bedroom to change into her sleepwear.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” her friend prompted.

“Well for starters those jerks from the London museum packaged the scepter of Tutankhamun all wrong and it wound up in two pieces by the time it reached us. Which means I must deal with Lila tomorrow if I want it fixed. I asked Max to talk to her, but I doubt it’ll help much.” Marinette stripped off her shirt and threw it in the laundry hamper, then pulled a clean camisole from her top drawer. “And get this, I had a meeting with Chloe today, to smooth out some details she was throwing a fit over, and guess who I nearly tackle?”

“Chloe?” The way Alya asked made it sound like she was hoping it was Chloe that got tackled.

“You wish,” snickered Marinette. “No, it was Adrien Agreste.” She paused to let that sink in.

Turned out Alya didn’t need time for it to sink in. “You tackled the Adrien Agreste? Adrien, face of Gabriel Fashion Industries?”

Nearly tackled,” Marinette clarified. “I dodged at the last minute and shared a passionate kiss with the concrete instead.”

“Did he laugh?” Alya sounded like she was trying not to laugh.

Marrinette pulled on a pair of sleeping pants and returned to her living room, she sank back onto the couch with a muted sigh. “Actually, he was a complete gentleman about the whole thing. He even helped me up and offered to buy me a new blazer.”

“You told him no, didn’t you?”

“I can’t just ask Adrien Agreste to buy me a new blazer!” Marinette huffed.

“It wouldn’t be asking if the man offered. Besides, it would’ve been the perfect excuse to see him again.”

“No,” Marinette deadpanned.

“No what?” pressed the journalist playfully.

“No, I am not going to take advantage of his charity just to see him again,” she explained. “It’s petty, and probably something Lila would do.”

“True.” Alya didn’t press the subject further, instead their conversation moved onto the meeting with Chloe, and the party invitation Marinette received. It turned out Alya also received an invite but more so because Chloe wanted her to write a favorable article about the event; and if Alya wanted Marinette to stay in Chloe’s good graces the reporter was going to have to find something nice to write about that party. Everyone knew the journalist and the curator were thick as thieves, so anything Alya said would reflect on Marinette. Guilty by association, or so the saying went.

When Marinette finally got off the phone with Alya, she finished mopping up the mess in the kitchen. To make up for Chardonnay’s sacrifice she downed a glass of Pinot Noir and took a shower. By the time she crawled into bed and her head hit the pillow, she was out like a light.

0000

Max was in his office, lost in the coding for the new security again, when Marinette showed up at the museum with his breakfast.

Max adjusting his cuff“Croissants, Pain au raisin, and Chausson aux Pommes.” She dropped the box of pastries in front of their tech guy. “Fresh baked this morning by none other than Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Sabine Dupain-Cheng. Delivered to your office with love and care by your darling boss, Miss Dupain-Cheng.” The smile she shot Max was cheeky and he returned the grin when she seated herself in the usual spot on the edge of his messy desk. “Please tell me my bribe is paying off and Lila is coming in to fix that scepter.”

Max’s face dropped into a frown and he nervously adjusted the glasses sitting on his nose. He was looking much better today; clean shaven, showered, and Marinette could even catch a whiff of tasteful cologne. His hair was still pulled back in a poofy ponytail, and his clothes still left something to be desired, but they were also fresh and wrinkle free today.

“About Lila…” he trailed off.

“Max,” Marinette’s tone became venomous. “I swear to God she better come in today.”

He was quick to continue his words, “about that. Lila emailed me back saying she’d be here, but she’s going to be late.” He looked even more nervous when his boss narrowed her eyes.

“How late?”

“She didn’t specify, but I promise she’ll be here even if I have to go pick her up and drag her here myself.”

The sigh Marinette expelled could have extinguished the flame in a furnace. It wasn’t Max’s fault that Lila was a shitty person. She was an excellent conservator (when she actually did her job), and with the exhibit set to open in a month, Marinette couldn’t afford to fire her and hire a new one. It took her a few moments to calm her frayed nerves but she finally looked up at Max and gave him half a smile.

“Thanks.”

He could probably tell how stressed she was, and he returned the smile; but like hers it didn’t reach his eyes.

00000

As it turned out, Lila Rossi didn’t waltz into work that day until just after five pm. Juleka was trying everything to keep her boss from pulling her own hair out, and Marinette was on the verge of sending the hounds to go track Lila down. AKA: telling Max to go drag her sorry ass into work. The Italian vixen strolled past everyone like she owned the place, and wasn’t eight hours late for work.

“This has got to stop,” Marinette seethed, watching their conservator wiggle her fingers flirtatiously at the guard behind the front desk.

Juleka placed a concerned hand on her boss’s shoulder. “If you say anything to her right now it’ll make everything worse.”

Her assistant was right. As much as Marinette wanted to rip Lila’s head off her shoulders and scold her behavior, it was best to wait till after she fixed the scepter. Fighting with Lila would only cause a scene, work them both up, and might result in Lila going home without doing her job. Or worse, walk off the job. Neither outcome was preferable.

“Juleka,” she suddenly snapped. Her assistant responded with a slow blink. “Put your things away, we are going to dinner.”

“Now?”

“Now,” Marinette confirmed. “I’m hungry, I need a break, and I don’t care if you aren’t hungry, but you are taking a break with me.” Despite her words she knew Juleka was just as starving as she was. Neither of them had eaten since breakfast.

“What about the file on the Bastet statue Lila was supposed to fax over today? Weren’t you going to ask her about that?” Juleka flipped through some pages on her iPad before looking up again. “We never received it today.”

“I don’t want to worry about that right now,” her boss insisted. “We’ll swing by after dinner to check on Lila and ask about those files.” She didn’t wait for her assistant to respond, her heels were already clicking against the tile as Marinette headed back to her office to grab her purse. Juleka followed close behind to lock up her iPad, swap it out for her personal one, and collect her own things.

0000

It was half past nine pm, and Marinette had single handedly upended nearly every office in the building. When she finally found the file on the Bastet statue she was ready to hunt Lila down and strangle her.

When asked where the file was and why it wasn’t faxed to Marinette’s office, Lila explained that she did fax it, but it must have been faxed to the wrong person. She also conveniently forgot to whom she faxed the file, and dismissed the problem. After roughly three hours of searching, messed up offices, and a bunch of upset co-workers later, Marinette finally tracked it down and was currently going over the information. The file contained information about the Bastet artifact, and it was one of the last pieces that Marinette still had to write up an object label for as well as a brief history to go in the exhibit pamphlets.

She was worn out from her wild goose chase, had officially been at work for over twelve hours, and the words in the file were starting to run together. Marinette rubbed her eyes and pushed herself away from the desk. She sent Juleka home hours ago when she realized how long it was going to take to find the files, and now she was wishing her assistant was back.

I’m done with this for tonight. She stood up suddenly and decided it was time to pay Lila a visit. As far as she knew the conservator was still in the museum and she wanted to see if Lila had made any progress on fixing that scepter.

Marinette found the source of her recent agitation in the restoration laboratory bent over the scepter of Tutankhamun with a pensive expression. The little Italian woman was actually working hard for once and it was enough to ease some of the irritation Marinette felt at the sight of her.

“Hey,” she greeted, pushing open the lab doors and approaching Lila’s table.

Lila looked up and scowled, but after a moment she returned the greeting with her own concise, “hey.”

Marinette fidgeted a moment, picking her next words carefully. “It’s late, and I know you want to go home. Is there anything I can do to help?” She didn’t really want to stay and help, but she also didn’t want to leave Lila all alone all night with that scepter. She didn’t really trust Lila to start with, and after her spooky experience the night before she was reluctant to subject anyone else to the isolation of the museum after dark. And it went without saying that this exhibit was her responsibility, she needed to make sure the scepter was returned safely to the storage vault before she went home.

You?” Lila scoffed. “You’re offering to help me?”

“I have to be here anyway, might as well make your night a little easier.” She wasn’t about to tell Lila that she was only there to babysit her.

The Italian woman scrutinized her with a look of disbelief for a long moment. It was as if she were questioning Marinette’s motives and if they were sincere. Marinette didn’t blame her; after all it was a rare day that either woman shared words that weren’t cynical or bitter. They also made a point to avoid each other as much as possible.

Lila checked the clock on the wall and must have decided she wanted to go home more than reject Marinette’s assistance. “Yeah, ok.” She scrunched her nose, but that was tame in comparison to her usual gestures.

If anyone had told Marinette a week ago that she would be working alongside Lila like co-workers, she would have laughed her head off. But there she was, a quarter to midnight, drained; but the scepter of Tutankhamun was fixed and it was all thanks to Lila. She still didn’t like her much, but neither of them were arguing, and had actually managed to carry some civil if not cordial conversations.

“I just need to store this equipment back in the maintenance closet, and you can take the scepter to the vault.” Lila snapped off the table light and shoved away from the lab table with a triumphant sigh. She even did a twirl on her swivel stool before getting up to stretch. 

“I got this,” Marinette cut in. “You go ahead and go home. I’ll take care of the scepter and run your equipment back to maintenance.”

Lila quirked a brow at her. “Really?”

“Yes. You were able to fix the piece, which is a life saver. The least I can do is clean up.”

The conservator hesitated a moment longer, eyes darting between Marinette and her equipment and back again. “You aren’t going to sabotage any of it, are you?” she still sounded skeptical.

“Please,” Marinette rolled her eyes and blew a stray lock of hair out of her face. “Max would kill me if I did that to you.”

The mention of Max immediately made a smile pull at the corner of Lila’s mouth. “Alright, fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Marinette watched her collect her things and dart out of the room faster then she’d moved all night. Despite her initial reluctance, Lila really was eager to go home, and so was Marinette for that matter.

“Almost done,” she assured herself, gathering the scepter in a protective cloth and packing it away in a box.

Marinette immediately regretted sending Lila home the moment she stepped out of the lab with the box. The interior of the museum was bathed in shadows with only the security lights showing the way, and all at once the memory of the night before crept back at full force. Marinette noted that she didn’t have the prickly feeling, but apprehension settled over her none the less. It took more effort than she would have liked to force herself to move, and when she did it was with a hastiness that was borderline reckless given the priceless artifact she carried.

She reached the storage vault in record time, and punched in the security codes like she was jabbing someone’s eyes out. Marinette was in and out of the room quickly enough, setting the box with the rest of its kin, and making sure nothing was out of place. When she returned to the hall she double triple locked the door and reset the alarms.

And that’s when it hit her. Like a nauseous wave that enveloped her from head to toe and swept her out into a sea of ice cold ants; that feeling of being watched returned with a vengeance. It was so intense that she almost gagged.

Her eyes began a frantic search of her surroundings, probing every shadow, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn’t see anyone, and yet dying to figure out what was watching her. Unlike the last time she was unable to pinpoint anything suspicious, and chose instead to flee back to the conservator’s lab. As much as she wanted to ditch everything and leave the building she promised Lila she would put her equipment away.

“This is my job.” Marinette chanted. “Suck it up. No one is there.” Over and over she repeated the words like a mantra. The sound of her voice provided the smallest amount of comfort.

She gathered the equipment from the laboratory and was darting down the halls to the maintenance closet in minutes. Marinette cursed when her hands fumbled with the keys and it took her three tries to fit the key in the lock. When she finally opened the door, she snapped on the light, darted inside and pressed her back against one of the shelves. A quick survey of the closet assured her that no one else was there with her, and she breathed a sigh of relief when the heavy door closed.

A brief moment of respite. The isolation of the maintenance closet put a damper on the prickly feeling. It was as blissful as it was terrifying. Minutes passed and she finally pulled herself together enough to put Lila’s equipment away. Marinette had almost completely recovered when she placed her hand on the doorknob and tried to pull it open.

It was locked.

It was an auto locking door.

“Ah hell.” She frantically searched her pockets for the keys before she realized she left them in the lock on the other side of the door. “Hell, hell hell hell!” Marinette beat her hand against the door as if someone might hear her and let her out.

When that failed to serve a purpose, she fished her cell out and decided to contact someone for help. Max would have already gone home, but maybe someone could swing by the museum and let her out. She now wished she had the number of one of the night guards, and cursed herself for it. Marinette blinked at the screen of her cell.

No service.

“Nooooo…” She released a desperate whine and fought back the panic and tears that welled up inside her. There were no windows in this closet, just thick walls of concrete located in the center of a very dense building. In a desperate attempt, she held her phone up and hovered it around the room in hopes of catching a whiff of a signal.

When that proved futile she beat her hand helplessly against the door once more. Praying to God that a night guard would walk by, hear, and let her out. She couldn’t recall how long she beat on the door, but her fist was hurting, and her knuckles were red, and her throat ached from holding back tears.

“Please,” she begged to no one. “Please, let me out.”

………..

*click*

It was as if God had answered her plea and granted her mercy. The door clicked open a few inches and about scared Marinette to death.

She pulled it open the rest of the way and expected to see the concerned face of a night guard on the other side. Instead her eyes stared at the empty hall. The only thing waiting for her were the shadows that the security lights failed to dissipate.

“Hello?” she called, but her voice was raspy and it was barely more than a whisper. She reached a hand around for the keys she left in the door and started when her fingers found nothing. Marinette stepped out of the closet, searched the door and floor surrounding it, but there was no trace of her keys. It was as if they vanished into thin air.

With the realization that someone let her out of that closet, and someone had also taken her keys, came the feeling of the icy ants again. She knew someone was there now, and she knew she was being watched.

“Lila, if this is you, it’s not funny.” Deep down Marinette wanted desperately for it to be Lila playing some sick joke, because all the alternatives her mind conjured were far, far worse. “This is sick, Lila.” When she received no response, she pressed her back against the door and swallowed some of her overwhelming apprehension. Her hands closed around the bottle of pepper spray in her pocket and she slipped it out, concealing it at her side.

She waited for someone to step out of the shadows, for anything to happen, but the halls remained desolate. Whoever it was that rescued her seemed content to remain anonymous. Finally, Marinette worked up enough courage to peal herself from the door.

“If you jump out and scare me I’m going to hurt you,” she threatened the silence. She took a few steps. “I’m serious.” A few tentative steps more. She had just reached the first pillar. “I have-“

A muted crash erupted from one of the other exhibit wings down the long hall. It sounded like a display case being broken. Before she could even scream a hand closed over her mouth and dragged her back into the shadows kicking. She raised the pepper spray but another hand knocked if from her grasp and claws wrapped around her wrist.

“Shhhhh,” someone whispered into her ear.

Marinette couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped her throat, although the noise was muffled by the leather clad hand. The smell of that leather crawled into her nose and she never hated it so much in her life. Her captor eased her back into the thickest part of the shadows, and she was pulled against a firm masculine body. A sob erupted from her chest.

“Shhhh, shhh, shhhhhhhh.” The whispering in her ear took on a soothing tone, as if trying to calm her down.

“Mmmmfff,” she protested. A tear slithered down her cheek and splashed against the hand.

“I’m not going to hurt you, chérie.” His masculine tenor was a hum against her ear.

Before he could say anymore, a group of dark men spilled out into the hallway. From their appearance, they were quite obviously burglars. Several of them were armed with weapons, and there were guns strapped to their belts. They were carrying pieces from one of the museum’s exhibits, and from the direction they were headed, it seemed they were on their way to pilfer more from a different exhibit.

The man holding Marinette captive tightened his grip on her, forcing her to stay as still as possible until the thieves had passed. Every inch of her body was prone to every contour of his; she could feel his firm chest pressed against her back and the undeniable swell of his muscles. There was an uncomfortable digging in her lower back, like from the tools of a belt, made worse with every swell of his abdomen when he inhaled; his breaths were silent but she felt them ghosting over her neck.

“They’ve passed now.” His voice was so sudden that she flinched against him. “If I remove my hand, do you promise not to scream?” The way he asked was so impossibly gentle, like if he spoke too harshly he might break her.

Marinette nodded. A second later he pulled his hand from her mouth and she sucked in a fresh unhindered breath. Still he did not release her.

“Who are you?” She forced the question, though she doubted he would tell her.

A low chuckle vibrated in his chest and he loosened his grip so he could turn her around to face him. The man pulled her a generous step to the right until the glow of the security lights illuminated his features.

Her gaze trailed down him almost comically slow the first time, then darted back up to be sure of what she saw. The man holding her captive was clad in a skin-tight leather catsuit. And the cat suit was literal. There were leather cat ears on the top of his head, a mask obscuring half his face, and a large gold bell hung from the zipper at his collar. She didn’t recall hearing the bell chime at all when he moved, so she assumed the ball must be missing from inside of it.

“You…” she started, still unsure of what she was seeing. “You’re Chat Noir.”

The man’s mouth pulled into a pleased grin, showing her a flash of teeth. Bright, almost glowing, green eyes appraised her.

“The one and only, milady.” He inclined his head dramatically because he couldn’t bow without releasing her.  

“Oh God.” She felt dizzy all of a sudden. Chat Noir was an infamously elusive cat burglar wanted internationally for various robberies. She’d heard of him. Oh God, had she heard of him, and here he was in her museum holding her captive. “You’re going to rob the place.”

“Well not yet,” his grin became a smirk as he corrected her. “The item I am after has yet to go on display.”

“My exhibit…” she trailed off. “You’re going to rob the Egyptian exhibit.” It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement.

The shine in his eyes was her only confirmation. “It’s unfortunate those thugs turned up. I acknowledge it’s been a stressful evening for you.”

Marinette suddenly felt contempt overpower her fear. “Oh, how considerate of you,” she growled. “Will you be so concerned about my feelings when you rob my exhibit?”

“Me-ouch!” He feigned a pained flinch as if she struck him.

She wasn’t moved by his theatrics and narrowed her eyes.

”If you dare rob my exhibit I will make it my personal mission to hunt you down, skin your tight leather-clad ass, and have it made into a throw rug for my office.”

“Such conviction, and fire—if your words weren’t passionate enough—I see it all blazing in your lovely eyes. But about those extraordinary hunting abilities...” Chat Noir became serious and pinned her with a stare. “You knew I was there.”

Marinette blinked and waited for him to elaborate.

“Last night, when I was here. You knew.”

She suddenly had her explanation for the spooky feeling the night before. Under the intensity of his stare, all she could manage was half a nod.

“And tonight…” he pressed, his voice dropping lower, “you could feel me, but I know you couldn’t see me.”

Marinette swallowed, and the memory of the overwhelming icy ant feeling resurfaced. She couldn’t even manage a nod this time, but he appeared to extract the answer he wanted from her eyes.

“Who are you?” he breathed, dipping his face mere inches from hers.

Warning signals went off in the back of her mind, and she clenched her teeth together. There wasn’t any way in hell she was going to divulge her name to this wanted criminal. She recoiled away from him just a bit, bringing a shaking finger up to press against the tip of his nose. A feeble attempt to prompt him to back off and force distance between them.

He only appeared amused by the gesture and smiled behind her finger.

Before he could ask the question again, a noise erupted from the direction the other burglars went. The disruption brought both of them back to the present, and Chat Noir cursed under his breath.

“We need to get you someplace safe.” He stepped away and pulled her by the wrist towards the exhibit that had already been robbed. A direction the thieves were unlikely to return. When the heels of her shoes clicked against the tile, he ordered her to remove them.

Once free of her heels, she followed him, albeit reluctantly. Deciding that going willingly with Chat Noir was the lesser of evils at this point. She felt caught between a rock and two sets of teeth. Trying to escape him might alert the thieves to their presence, or it might incite Chat Noir to hurt her.

He was astonishingly gentle for someone whose grip was as unyielding as an iron shackle.

“Why are you helping me?” No matter how Marinette tried she couldn’t figure out how Chat Noir’s actions tonight were beneficial to him in any way. He was the one who let her out of that closet. He hid her from the burglars. And he’d tipped her off that he was after something in her exhibit. Which meant he was either stupid, didn’t view her as a threat, or had something sinister planned for her. She dismissed the first option; if he were stupid he would’ve been caught ages ago. Which left the other two options, and she really hoped it wasn’t the last one.

“Let’s just say you’ve sparked my interest, Purrincess~” He rolled his r’s on the improvised endearment.

“Really?!” she hissed. Appalled at his strange sense of humor. “Cat puns?”

Chat Noir merely chuckled.

She hated the sense of amusement that bubbled up alongside her irritation and fear. “So do the puns come with the get-up, or are you this lame even out of the suit?” 

“It’s a pawsitive shame you’ll never get me out of this suit to find out,” he teased.

It was everything she had to suppress a groan, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the implications. “And the costume? I assume that’s a pun in and of itself?”

Chat Noir paused next to a smashed display, casting a cheeky grin over his shoulder; his eyes glimmering with mischief. “So curious about my work uniform, Purrincess? I’m thrilled you were able to pick up the subtle play upon words, it’s nice to know one’s effort is appreciated.”

He fell silent and turned his head as if listening for something. She heard a subtle whisper in the air, like static in the night but Marinette took that moment to inspect the debris from the destroyed display case. There were bits of glass everywhere, and several precious stones were missing, but there was one very large round rock that remained. It was part of a crystal formation, and among all the other pieces that had been contained in this display, it was the most worthless and cumbersome.

But it was a fantastic blunt object, heavy and easy to grip with one hand.

She chanced a look at Chat Noir, he wasn’t paying any attention to her. Marinette snaked her hand down and wrapped her fingers around the rock. She tested the weight for a moment, gauging how much force she’d need exert in order lift it and bring it down on the cat burglar’s head.

“They’ve knocked out the cameras,” he whispered.

It’s now or never. She swallowed and brought the rock around in a swinging arc. Using her own strength coupled with the force of her movement she struck Chat in the back of the head. There was a sickening crack that resulted upon impact, and suddenly the man went down like a sack of potatoes, his whole body crumpling to the floor in a heap.

Marinette could only stare at him, absolutely appalled at what she just did, and that it actually worked. The stone slipped from her fingers, striking the floor with a definitive clack. Then something snapped in her brain telling her to act. This was Chat Noir, and she’d incapacitated him. She wasn’t sure how long he would stay unconscious.

Somewhere deep inside, Marinette channeled her bravery and began searching his body for some sort of restraint. She deduced that if she could just tie him up, she could leave him behind, and call the police. They’d show up, catch the armed robbers and the infamous Chat Noir in the process. Killing two birds with one stone, she told herself.

Her hands found another belt at the back of his utility belt. When Marinette unclipped it she realized it was meant to be his tail. The man really took the cat burglar persona a bit too far. But the belt did serve as a decent tool to restrain him. It was thin and strong, with a metal buckle on the end.

With a considerable amount of effort, she managed to drag Chat Noir across the floor to a large cabinet that was built into the ground. Then she shoved him up against it, and bound his clawed hands as tightly as she could manage. She used the remainder of the belt and cinched him to the cabinet. Marinette gave it an experimental tug before locking the buckle in place, and even knotted the leather on the end to make sure it wouldn’t come loose.

It was tight enough to cut off circulation, which meant it was tight enough to keep him from escaping.

Chat Noir let out a pained groan, and began to stir.

Marinette leapt to her feet and was away from him in an instant. Her mind screamed for her to leave now, to escape before he woke up and tried to talk his way out. She had the feeling he was very good at talking himself out of sticky situations. He seemed like the type to own a silver tongue.

Go! You need to get out of here, she urged herself. Marinette cast one more look over her shoulder at the cat burglar, then she took off running.

Marinette had never run so fast in her whole life. She raced down the halls, feet slapping against the tiled floor. She flew past the front desk where she discovered the unconscious bodies of the night guards; she vaulted over them and out the front door. She took the stone steps two at a time and raced over the concrete till she reached the parking garage just across the way. Once inside, she practically tackled her Panda, scraping the paint with her car keys in her desperation to unlock the door.

When she was finally in the safety of her vehicle she yanked out her cell phone and hovered her thumb over the emergency number.

Chapter Text

Her thumb hesitated over the emergency number.

A deep sense of guilt weighed heavily in her chest, almost suffocating.

This is the right thing to do. Make the call!

Images of Chat Noir slumped against the large display cabinet crowded Marinette’s head. The intense internal debate within her had a life of its own. Her self-preservation was begging her to call the police, then get as far from the museum and the criminals within as quickly as possible.  Her conscience was stoking the fires of her guilt with an entirely different argument.

You can’t do this to him. He saved you. Twice. He didn’t have to let you out of that closet. He didn’t have to conceal you from those burglars. You owe him. Can you live with this?

“I’m never going to get another chance like this, not for the rest of my life,” she hissed to herself. Marinette’s hand shook as she inched her thumb closer to the call button. No one has ever put Chat Noir behind bars. She could be the one to trap this alley cat.

“Fuck,” Marinette sucked in a sharp breath and slammed her forehead into the steering wheel of her Panda.

Pocketing her cell, she continued to curse her very existence as she climbed out of the car and darted back to the Museum. The fear that she could cross paths with the other armed robbers pervaded her mind. If they caught her, she could end up like the security guards, or worse. Much worse.

What if Chat Noir is working with those other robbers? By the time that thought occurred to her she was already racing through the entrance of the museum, bent low to the ground and hugging the shadows. Marinette passed the unconscious guards again and had to fight the sick feeling in her stomach. A cold sweat broke out on her skin, and she questioned why she was helping Chat Noir again.

She neither heard nor saw any sign of the burglars as she made her way down the halls back to the wing where she’d left Chat tied to a cabinet. Marinette peered around a corner and saw the smashed display case before she saw Chat. It was the same display she’d taken the rock from to bash the cat burglar in the back of the head. Slowly she eased herself around the corner, and approached the room where she’d left him. Part of her expected him to be gone, part of her feared he would be gone.

“Did you forget to kiss me goodbye?” His eyes sparkled in the dark, pinning her with a toxic green stare.

Marinette rolled her eyes so hard it hurt. She was at his side in seconds, hands going to the belt restraining his wrists. “I’m already regretting this.” 

“Please no regrets. I’m honored that you would come back for me.”

“I’m not doing this for you,” she growled, setting him straight. “But I couldn’t live with myself if I did this to you after you saved me. Twice.” She added the last part under her breath. Her hands fumbled with the knot on the belt, trying desperately to pull it apart. It must have been hurting him quite a lot considering how tight she bound his hands, but he didn’t make a sound.

“Which reminds me,” she hissed, wincing when she sacrificed a nail to the leather bindings. Her eyes made a quick pass over his complicated utility belt, but she was unable to identify definite shapes in the dark. “Where are my keys, you scoundrel?”

“You lost your keys?” She could hear the mock incredulity dripping over every syllable. “That’s awfully irresponsible of you.”

“Don’t deflect my question. Now tell me where they are, or I’m not letting you go.”

As if to test her threat, Chat Noir wriggled, arms pulling at the bindings but relenting when there wasn’t enough give. “Where did you leave them?” 

“In the maintenance door,” she replied snappishly, patience wearing thin. 

“And they weren’t there? How curious.” 

“Oh for heaven’s sake.” She couldn't believe the absurdity of the situation. Here she was in a dark museum -while a burglary was taking place- crouched next to an internationally infamous thief, arguing the whereabouts of a set of keys she was sure he pilfered. Ultimately realizing he was far too evasive to ever admit to anything. 

Chat fell silent while she worked to free him. His eyes were instead trained on the hallway behind, as if watching for potential danger.

“Finally!” The knot broke loose and she snapped the clasp open. Chat Noir’s arms did the rest, muscles tightening as he pulled apart the last of the restraints. The belt fell away and he was on his feet in seconds, rubbing his sore wrists in the process.

“My thanks, chérie,” he traced a clawed finger along the corner of her jaw and Marinette couldn’t decipher if her shiver was a flinch or something else. “You could have left me, and assisted in the capture of the most infamous cat burglar in Europe. And yet, you set me free.” His eyes softened, the smile he gave her was a mix of admiration and gratitude.

Marinette pushed his hand away and turned her head so she wouldn’t have to look at those toxic eyes any longer. “I suppose it’s foolish to hope you’ll stay away from my exhibit as appreciation?”

“I’m afraid so, Purrincess,” he chuckled. “We’re even now, after all.”

Chat carrying MariVoices from deeper in the museum brought them back to the situation at hand. Marinette seemed to recall the urgency of the situation, and Chat snapped out of whatever spell had taken hold of him. He bent and collected his belt, snapping it back into place just above his well-toned butt.

Claws were on Marinette’s body, and she was scooped up by strong arms before she was even able to comprehend who they belonged to. His grip was sure, and he took off running with speed and agility suiting his alias. She barely heard the sound his boots made when they connected with the floor.

“As soon as we clear the building, I want you to call the police,” Chat Noir instructed, his voice suddenly devoid of its earlier playfulness.

Marinette nodded, pulling her phone out. Seconds later he kicked the door open and raced out of the building with her. She was on the phone calling in the robbery as he carried her through the night. By the time she concluded the call he was dropping her next to her car; she stumbled to regain her footing and her back pressed up against the familiar yellow Panda.

“At the very least, tonight wasn’t a wasted effort,” he hummed, sounding quite pleased with himself. “In the end I got to carry off a treasure from the museum.” His cheeky statement was accompanied by a playful and flirty wink. “This is where I bid you a beautiful farewell,” Chat Noir whispered, his eyes dropping into a seductive look.

“Let’s pray I never see you again,” she bit back smartly. Marinette pulled the car keys from her pocket and was reaching for her car door.

“If I’m a smart thief, you won’t see me again.” Playful teasing almost masked the hollow disappointment in his voice. Chat Noir seized her free hand and placed a chaste kiss against her knuckles. When he released her, he took a step back into the shadows of the parking garage and whispered, “Arrivederci, Purrincess.”

He was gone moments later, disappearing into the darkness as if the shadows had swallowed him up. Marinette climbed into her car and crumpled behind the wheel. It was well into the early hours of the morning, she was exhausted, and coming down from her adrenaline high. She wanted desperately to go home and sleep, but she needed to be there to give the police a statement when they showed up.

She could already hear the sirens in the distance, closing in on the museum. The police would be there in seconds. A sigh of relief escaped her chest and she resigned herself to several more hours of stress.

“I’m taking a day off tomorrow.”

0000

In the aftermath of the robbery, the entire Museum’s schedule was in an uproar. Progress on the Egyptian exhibit was compromised, displays had to be replaced, locks had to be changed, and the whole security system in the building was getting an overhaul. The only good news that came from the whole ordeal was that the armed robbers were apprehended, taken to prison, and all the stolen property was returned.

All except for a set of maintenance and laboratory keys.

Marinette considered herself very fortunate for more reasons than just surviving the whole ordeal. Because the armed robbers took out most of the surveillance in the building, she wasn’t caught on camera conversing with Chat Noir, nor tying him up and then subsequently setting him free.  No one even knew Chat Noir had been in the museum that night, and Marinette left him out of the statement she gave the police.

Not that she could’ve explained him to the police. It would’ve only opened a new set of problems and she would have lost her job. At least this way she could still work to protect her exhibit. She knew Chat Noir was after it, and he knew that she could feel his presence. Marinette felt like she already had the upper hand and was prepared to fight him, should it come down to that.

As it were, Marinette spent the next weeks working her hind end off. Her team started working equally long hours, even Lila was forced to come in and actually show up on time. Max was in over his head coding for the new security in the whole building, so they brought in some other programmers and security tech guys from a neighboring museum. The entire office wing became a huge nerd fest, and two of the guys even set up in Marinette’s office because they needed the space.

Chloe’s charity fundraiser would have passed Marinette by had it not been for Alya. The night of the party, Alya showed up at Marinette’s apartment in a dazzling evening gown, heels, and her hair done up in a low side chignon.

“Chloe’s party is tonight?!” Marinette began a spastic freak out around the interior of her apartment. “I’m not ready! I haven’t picked out a dress! I just took off my make-up!”

Alya opened her mouth to say something, but decided it was more fun to watch her best friend pitch a conniption fit.

“Help me!” Marinette finally stopped in front of the journalist and practically melted into a puddle of despair.

“Girl, calm down. We still have a few hours. I was going to see if you wanted to grab something to eat before the party, but we can get take out instead.” Alya stepped away from the front door and herded Marinette into the bedroom. “Let’s find you something to wear first.”

Alya began rifling through Marinette’s closet, while the other woman sat on her bed and lamented that it was going to be another late night.

“How about this one?” Alya held up a blue gown.

“No, I need to finish the alterations on that one. It was too tight around my hips.”

Her friend continued to look.

“I’m surprised you don’t have a date tonight,” remarked Marinette.

“Nino couldn’t make it,” she explained, still pouring over the dresses. “He’s on tour in England right now.”

“I’m sorry.” Marinette’s tone was somber. She knew Alya was probably missing Nino. The two of them were in a serious relationship for well over a year now, and she’d never seen her best friend so happy.

“Don’t sweat it,” Alya brushed off the sympathies. She shot a look at Marinette over her shoulder and gave a playful wink. “It frees me up to be your date tonight.”

Marinette couldn’t help but giggle. “Nino will be jealous.” That got Alya laughing. “So, how did you know I didn’t already have a date tonight?”

“Puh-lease,” huffed Alya, “little miss workaholic having a date?” She held up another dress, but Marinette shook her head.

“I date! I’ve had dates!”

“Not in two years.”

Marinette gave her own irritated huff.

Alya chuckled and pulled a crimson colored evening gown from the closet. It was a halter top that came with elbow length gloves. There was an excessive slit up the side of the dress, but it had a black under skirt with matching red spots.

“Don’t you dare tell me no on this one.”

Marinette looked up to see which dress Alya was referring to.

“I haven’t seen you wear this dress before.”

Marinette cringed just a bit. “That’s because it’s a prototype. The design is unfinished.”

“Unfinished my ass, Mari.” She twirled towards the bed with the dress and both women watched the skirt flutter about with the movement. “It’s gorgeous! Put it on while I find some jewelry to match it.”

Marinette stripped off her house clothes and began slipping into the dress while Alya rummaged through her jewelry box. The dress was more form fitting than she remembered, the top and waist hugged her torso and hips, but the skirt loosened up flowing in lovely waves thanks to the slit up the side. It had a halter top neckline, concealing her cleavage, but her back was completely exposed until just above her bottom.

“I don’t know, Alya… it’s kinda revealing.” She had just finished slipping on the gloves and shot her friend a nervous look.

Alya turned around holding a black choker with a ladybug charm attached to it. “You designed it, besides I think it looks hot.” She wiggled her brows and held out the neck ornament. “This will match the dress perfectly, and ladybugs are supposed to be good luck.” Alya held Marinette still while she secured the choker around her neck, then centered it so the charm fell just between her collar bones. “Now, let’s have your hair down.” She pulled the scrunchy out, freeing Marinette’s hair so it spilled down over her shoulders in messy waves. “Spot on. All you need now is a pair of red heels to match this ensemble.”

Marinette brushed out her hair while her best friend tore apart her shoe closet. Her mind wandered to Alya’s earlier words; maybe it had been too long since she tried dating. Her love life was never the most amazing, previous relationships starting and fizzling out without much fanfare or drama. In fact, the night she met Chat Noir had been the most interesting experience she’d had with a man in a long time, and she was pretty sure the cat burglar was just flirting because he had ulterior motives.

He probably flirts with all women just to distract them so he can rob them blind. She couldn’t help the burning ire that swelled in her chest at the thought of him. The temptation to vent at Alya about Chat Noir was so strong she almost brought him up. It took every ounce of willpower she had to bite her tongue and keep it to herself.

It’s not that she didn’t trust her best friend, it was just that… Chat Noir was a criminal. And Marinette set him free, which made her feel just as dirty because she knew he was going to continue to steal. She could’ve stopped his string of burglaries, but she chose to take some misguided pity on him. It was eating her up inside.

“Found some heels.” Alya whirled around holding a pair of crimson heels, after having scattered more than half of Marinette’s shoe collection all over the floor. “Just put these on, and we’ll do up your make up. Then we can grab a quick bite to eat before Chloe’s party.”

Marinette banished her anxiety over a certain cat, and smiled warmly at her friend. “Thanks, Alya. What would I do without you?”

“Probably show up late or miss everything,” she replied with more than a little cheek.

00000

Chloe’s party turned out to be more gambling than anything else. There were poker, roulette, and craps tables strewn about an event room at her family’s hotel, Le Grande Paris. All the proceeds the hotel earned from the gambling would be donated to charity organizations, so Marinette couldn’t scoff at it too much. Besides, the alcohol was free the whole night.

When she and Alya arrived, the party was already in full swing. There were big shots, and celebrities milling about gambling, drinking, and conversing jovially. The scene alone caused Alya’s eyes to light up and shine like a full moon under a midnight sky. This was her element, and there were so many notable people for her to meet and interview. Marinettte could practically feel her friend dancing next to her.

“Alright, alright. Just go already. You don’t need me holding you back the whole night. Just do your thing.”

Alya shot the curator a guilty puppy pout. “What about you?”

“I’ll find something to do. That free wine at the bar looks particularly attractive. I might hit it up for the night.”

“Ok…” she said hesitantly. “Stay safe; don’t go home with any wine you don’t know.”

“Maybe I feel like drinking in something dangerous?” Marinette sassed back.

“I might have to check up on you every hour, girl.” Alya feigned mock concern, and grinned.

“Get out of here and go play.” The curator gave the journalist a shove and the two girls parted ways in the crowd.

00

Two glasses of wine later found Marinette slumped over the counter at the bar, seated on a tall swivel stool. She swirled the burgundy alcohol around her glass and stared at it like an old friend. It was through the reflection on the glass that she caught sight of a man approaching her. So, when he took a seat next to her she wasn’t caught off guard.

“Hey, I see you already found the life of this party.” He signaled the bartender for a glass, and turned to smile at Marinette.

She smirked at his comment and slid her eyes over to appraise her new company.

Her heart dropped into her stomach.

Adrien Agreste grinned at her with his impossibly perfect smile. His blonde hair was styled back, and his wheat grass eyes sparkled with mirth. He was dressed in an expensive white tuxedo with a black vest underneath. She could see the vest easily because his jacket was unbuttoned in an informal but attractive way.

“Aren’t you the girl I met outside the museum a few weeks ago?” He gestured at her with his wine glass prompting a conversation. “The one who’s blazer I damaged?”

“Oh uh…” Marinette fumbled, tongue.exe having ceased functioning properly. “That wasn’t you. I-I’m just very clumsy.”

Adrien chuckled and turned his eyes to the party. “Alright, Clumsy Girl. I’ve tried twice to take responsibility; I’ll put it to rest now.”

Damn it, now he probably thinks I don’t appreciate his offer. Marinette downed the last of her glass and signaled the bartender for a refill. She now wanted to explore those dangerous alcohols she knew she shouldn’t.

“So, you’re a connoisseur of the fine arts and history?”

It took Marinette longer than she would have liked to realize he was wondering why she was at the Museum. “No!” she yelped with inflection she didn’t intend. She cringed and struck her leg with a sharp fist when Adrien cringed. “I mean, I wasn’t a patron to the museum. I’m a curator… I-uh work there.”

Why the hell is he even talking to me? He’s Adrien-freaking-Agreste. There isn’t a person in this building that doesn’t want to talk to him. And they are all more important and influential than me. Marinette tried to smile at him, but it was stretched and thin. She was sure she looked like a crazy person.

Adrien gave her a curious look and blinked at her over the top of his glass. “A curator, huh? Are you the one running the much-anticipated Egyptian exhibit?”

“I wouldn’t say anticipated… but yeah.” Marinette tried to shift her gaze to the crowd in hopes that it would make speaking easier. She couldn’t help it, she just found Adrien to be so intimidating. It bugged her that she couldn’t figure out why he wanted to talk to her. “Miss Bourgeois is one of our sponsors.” There, now he knows why a lowly plebeian curator is at this distinguished party. That’s probably all he wanted to know, and he’s just too polite to ask outright.

“Hmmm.” Adrien appeared to be considering her words. He took a generous sip of his wine and shifted his weight on the stool next to her. “I heard about that robbery on the news. Must’ve been hard on your museum? Do you know how they got in?” He didn’t look at her, just continued to survey the crowd the same way she was.

“I’m… I’m not at liberty to discuss the incident.” It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t talk about it; rather that she was afraid to. There was so much about that night that she was trying to conceal, she was afraid of letting mention of Chat Noir slip. It didn’t help that she’d already had three glasses of wine, and couldn’t seem to control her tongue when speaking to this particular gentleman.

Adrien adopted a look of concern, “I apologize. It’s a sour subject to bring up on such a lively evening.” He thrust his hand towards her in a friendly gesture. “I’ve been so rude, I’m Adrien Agreste.”

Marinette started at his sudden gesture. Her eyes darted back and forth between his face and his hand before she realized he was initiating introductions. That’s right, I know his name, but he doesn’t know mine. She hesitated, unsure about the man. She still didn’t understand his interest in her. She was nobody. After another second of contemplation she took his hand and gave it a half a shake. Adrien attempted to pull her hand to his mouth for a kiss, but she snatched her fingers away.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng,” she supplied. Figuring a last name would still be polite, but not divulge too much. Not that Adrien couldn’t find out her first name, if he tried.

“French and Chinese, that’s unusual.” He was suddenly curious about her surnames.

You’re unusual. The conversation was only getting more uncomfortable the longer they talked. Marinette wasn’t sure how much longer she could stand it. “You’ll have to-uh excuse me, Mr. Agreste. It’s been a pleasure, but I really should find my friend, she’s probably worried about me.” She emptied her glass and slammed it on the bar a little harder than intended. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.” The stretched and thin smile crawled back onto her face as she bid him farewell before escaping into the crowd.

Adrien watched her go with a perplexed expression, like he didn’t quite understand what he did wrong.

0000

Marinette didn’t actually leave to track down Alya. She didn’t even bother to look for her. Alya was having the time of her life, conversing with the rich and famous, and it wasn’t a pastime that Marinette found pleasurable. She couldn’t even stand talking to Adrien Agreste for more than ten minutes, and he was being friendly.

She entertained the idea of going home. Chloe only invited her because it looked good as a sponsor, but Marinette’s presence hardly meant anything at an event like this. In the end, she felt out of her element and uncomfortable. She was also exhausted from the long hours at work, and the wine was starting to make her feel tipsy.

She was thankful to have ridden with Alya to the event, so she wouldn’t have to worry about her own car. But Marinette couldn’t very well ask her friend to drop everything now and take her home. She checked the time and found it wasn’t even midnight.

I could walk home. It’s a bit far but not the worst. I could be home before one.

Marinette spared one more look at the uppity party, no one even noticed her. No one would miss her if she left. She felt a pang of annoyance at her own cowardice, but stepped out of the hotel none the less. The crisp night air greeted her like a lover’s kiss against her face and bare shoulders, making her feel better about the decision to leave.

She chose well-lit busy streets and strolled like she belonged there, fancy dress and all. The best deterrent for unwanted attention was confidence, and pepper spray. Marinette always kept pepper spray handy in her pocket or purse and tonight was no exception. She kept a hand over the top of her little clutch purse at all times, ready to grab the spray should she need it.

Lady luck smiled on her with pleasant intensity that night, she reached her apartment a quarter to one in the morning, and without incident. Marinette expected to feel overwhelming relief greet her when she stepped into the courtyard of her apartment complex, but was instead overcome with a familiar and unsettling prickly feeling.

“Oh hell,” she cursed under her breath. Her eyes darted around searching the shadows out of habit. She didn’t even question it anymore. She recognized the feeling, the icy ants were unmistakable. What is he doing here? She slowed her pace towards the entrance of the building, eyes still searching the darkness for him. When her foot reached the first stone step she saw a shadow detach itself from the rest.

Chat Noir strolled up to her like a stray tom cat of the night. The black leather of his cat suit caught the faint glow of the entry lamps, and his fake tail swished comically behind him. His fake ears bounced charmingly on the top of his head with every step, and when his toxic green eyes met hers, Marinette swallowed thickly.

“What the hell do you want?” She forced out bitterly.

Chat Noir responded with a Cheshire grin, eyes sparkling playfully. “I was in the neighborhood,” he explained in an off-handed way. “There was a lovely princess owning the night, and I felt compelled to drop in for a chat.

Marinette bit back a groan, and rolled her eyes. This man is impossible. “This princess doesn’t entertain wanted men,” she snipped.

Chat Noir sauntered up to her, closing the distance between them and forcing her to retreat up another step. “I am a wanted man,” he purred in a low hum, “but do you want me?”

Marinette traced his mask with her eyes, noting the way his messy blonde hair framed his face before her gaze settled on his mouth. She willed away the heat that rushed through her body and reminded herself that this man flirts with ulterior motives.

“I want you to leave,” she growled out. “I was hoping I’d never see you again.”

“Me-ouch!” Chat Noir feigned hurt feelings and vulnerable eyes. “And here I thought you’d be delighted to see me.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” She watched him take a step closer and smile.

“You look exceptionally beautiful in that dress tonight.” He reached a clawed-gloved hand out and snatched up hers, pulling it in to kiss her knuckles before she could protest. “Red is your color, milady.”

It took everything she had to fight the blush that crept into her cheeks, and Marinette gritted her teeth to remind herself that these compliments were insincere as hell.

“What is your name?” Chat asked, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles with a kind of gentleness that caught her off guard.

“T-that’s none of your business,” she faltered and cursed herself. What is wrong with me?!

“Please, Chérie,” his voice dropped low and tender. “Just a first name, that’s all I ask.”

Her mouth betrayed her before she could catch it. Her mind screamed when she heard her name slip from her lips for him to hear. “M-marinette.”

Chat Noir hummed in approval and flashed that devilish white smile again; his toxic green eyes searching out her own bluebell eyes in the dark. His face was mere inches from her own, and she couldn’t recall when he’d gotten so close.

Marinette tried to tear her gaze away from him, and force logic and sense back into her mind. “A-and what is your name?” she stupidly asked but it was the only thing she could think to say.

“Hmmm,” Chat hummed deep and low like a purr in the back of his throat. He closed the distance between them and kissed her. It was slow and teasing, his lips ghosting over hers. It was enough to ignite a fire, but not enough to burn.

Against every warning and protest raging like a maelstrom in her body, Marinette melted into him. His right hand cupped the side of her chin, claws stroking her skin so very carefully. His other hand played with the side of her neck, his thumb tracing down her throat till it reached her choker. Marinette’s heart was hammering in her chest and all she could focus on was the feel of his lips moving against her own. The shuddering breath she took in was enough to break the already fragile kiss, and Chat pulled away with half-lidded eyes.

“I think I’d like to see you again,” he whispered.

Marinette’s brain was malfunctioning too much to shut him down or form a sassy response. She could only watch him like an idiot as he stepped away, retreating into the night. He gave her a dramatic bow, and twirled his faux tail, then shot her one more Cheshire grin before melting back into the shadows he’d crawled out of.

When Marinette’s mind finally rebooted and caught up with her, she realized her neck felt heavier than usual. She reached a hand up and to touch the choker at her neck, and her fingers made contact with a large bell instead. Immediately, her chin snapped down and she glared at the object attached to her choker.

The little Ladybug charm that had once decorated her choker was gone, pilfered. In its place was a large gold bell; the very same gold bell that Chat Noir wore. She gave the bell a shake, and just as she suspected before, the ball was missing from the inside, so it didn’t make a sound. Somehow, he’d managed to swap out her charm for his bell.

“That filthy cat stole my choker charm,” she hissed into the night. With all the indignation she could muster she sniffed, turned on her heal and stomped into her apartment complex. Despite her irritation, her fingers continued to touch the bell hanging over her collar bones.

Chapter Text

“Where the hell were you?!”

Marinette started when she entered Tikki’s office on Monday morning and was set upon by an extremely irate Chloe. Tikki was sitting in her master chair, turned away from her desk. Her hair was a frizzy red mess, and pulled back in a loose knot. She looked tired and disgruntled, which wasn’t surprising given the blonde that was currently pacing her office.

Chloe was having a conniption fit, and the full force of that attention was now fixed on the black-haired curator.

“You were supposed to be at my party,” Chloe howled. “I invited you and everything! Then I get important people asking about that stupid exhibit I’m sponsoring, and where is the curator?! Gone! Vamoose!” Chloe wasn’t tall, but right now the blonde’s personality was taking up the whole room. Her stark white attire offset with yellow only emphasized her presence in the dark room. That, and she wore three-inch heels.

“I showed up,” Marinette defended weakly. Her eyes darting to Tikki for help, her boss only gave her a tired look.

“Barely!” Shrieked Chloe. “The bartender said you sucked down a few glasses of wine, entertained Adrien, and flew out of there like a bat from hell.” She gesticulated wildly with her hands the whole time she ranted, and Marinette could only shrink in on herself with every word. “Speaking of Adrien! What the hell did you say to him?! The bartender said he was agitated, and only stayed around for one more glass of wine before storming out of my party in a mood.”

Oh crap, did I insult Adrien? Marinette tried to recall her conversation with the man, and what she could have said to upset him. “I’m really sorry, Chloe.”

Sorry?!” The shrieking continued. “Sorry doesn’t fix anything. You made me look bad in front of important people. And now I must apologize to Adrikins for your rude behavior.” The huff Chloe let out was practically accompanied by a ball of smoke.

“What am I supposed to say Chloe?” Marinette finally decided she’d had enough. “I was exhausted; I’ve been working my ass off on this exhibit! I showed up, but I’m sorry if I’m not some social butterfly! I’m a curator for God’s sake, I organize, plan and run exhibits, I do not entertain people. I’m sorry Adrien had a bad time. I didn’t know what to say to him, I was shy.” Marinette cringed when she thought of her conversation with the face of Gabriel Fashion Industries. It had been rough for her. “If it makes you feel any better, Alya’s probably writing tons of lovely things about your event for the newspaper and various magazines.”

The whole time Marinette spoke Chloe just fixed her with a distraught nose wrinkle, but the last part appeared to grab her attention. “Your journalist buddy is saying nice things about my party?”

“…yes?” Marinette winced, realizing her mouth was writing checks that she couldn’t endorse.

“Well,” snorted Chloe. “I suppose I did well inviting that annoying friend of yours.”

“Alya was thrilled about the party,” Marinette hedged, hoping to move the conversation in a better direction.

“Was she.” It was more a statement then a question. Chloe didn’t doubt her parties were thrilling. “I want a proper interview about this museum thingy.” She waved her hand around as if to gesture to the whole building they were in. “To make up for your blunder at my party. I need Paris to know I’m a big bleeding heart of generosity. Tell your journalist buddy to make it happen.”

Chloe didn’t wait for Marinette to respond; she didn’t even spare Tikki another glance. The blonde gathered herself, flicked her hair, and marched out of the office declaring she had better places to be.

“That was intense,” Tikki finally spoke, sitting back in her chair when she did.

Marinette practically melted against the door frame. “Why me?”

“You’d better hope Alya actually says wonderful things in her articles about Chloe’s party.” Tikki fixed Marinette with a hard look. A look that said her job was at stake for this. “We can’t afford to make the updates on our security if we lose Chloe as a sponsor.”

“I know, I know!” Marinette’s fingers tugged at her scalp when she ran them through her hair. “I’ll talk to Alya today. Though I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, she’s my friend after all. It wouldn’t be like her to throw me under the bus.”

Tikki nodded and stuck a pencil into her mess of frizzy red hair. “I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a better warning. She just showed up out of the blue first thing this morning; I barely had a chance to call you to my office.”

“I understand.” The curator assured. “I’m sorry I botched things up the other night.”

“Just watch yourself, Mari,” warned Tikki. “This exhibit is a big deal, and you’re presenting it.”

Marinette could only nod her understanding. “I’ll… I’ll get back to work now.”

Her boss bid her a polite farewell.

00

If Marinette thought her day couldn’t get any worse, she was sorely mistaken. When she entered her office, after placating Chloe, she found a single red rose sitting on her desk. It was fresh and just starting to bloom, laying across the keyboard of her computer in an unassuming way. She chanced a quick glance about her office and the hall outside. No one was around.

Marinette bit her lip and shut herself in the room, then approached her desk and picked up the flower. It was pretty, if not a bit humble. She couldn’t imagine it being for one of the programmers who’d taken up residence in her office recently. It was on her keyboard after all. She doubted even more that it would be a gift from one of them. Marinette barely even knew them.

She flipped the rose around in her hand, and a discoloration on one of the petals caught her eye. She brought it closer for inspection and about flung the rose away in shock and disgust. Burned into one of the petals was the unmistakable pattern of a cat’s paw. Center pad accompanied by four little toe beans.

You filthy mongrel! The fact that the rose was in her office meant he’d been in there. Somehow the cat had snuck into the museum again and left her a gift just to taunt her, to tell her that her efforts to secure the museum were nothing but a farce.

“He’s laughing at me,” she growled under her breath. The fact that Chat Noir was playing some sick game with her, made her angrier than Chloe had.

Her mind involuntarily danced back to that Friday night. The night she walked home from Chloe’s party only to find Chat Noir waiting outside her apartment complex. Marinette was furious with herself ever since he kissed her. She hated that she let him get that close. She hated that she let him kiss her, and she hated that she’d melted into that kiss like some lovesick fool.

I’m not easy, she told herself. I don’t want him. I don’t even like him. I’m just very lonely, and haven’t been with a guy in two years. She’d been trying all weekend to convince herself that the attraction she felt for Chat Noir was nothing more than pent up sexual desires. That it had nothing to do with the thief himself, just that he was the first man in a while to show her any sort of affection, and her body was reveling in it against her will.

She tossed the rose in her trash. Part of her hoped he might come back and see what she’d done with his gift, but mostly she hoped that Max and company would be able to plug whatever hole Chat found, and keep him from getting in next time.

She decided to give Max a call and spend the day pouring over the blueprints of the museum. She was determined to make it her personal mission to keep any and all felines out of the building and away from her exhibit.

Two can play this game, Chat Noir.

0000

The opening of her exhibit was pushed back two weeks from its original opening date. This was to give time for the new security to be installed and for repairs to the building after the robbery. The weeks leading up to when it would have originally opened were spent cleaning up after Chat Noir. The nasty mongrel snuck in every few days to hide gifts; roses, a business card, a love letter, once he even left breakfast pastries for her. Marinette was adamant about disposing every one of them. The last thing she wanted was for him to think she accepted any of these advances.

Today, he left a box of chocolates. She wouldn’t have even known they were from him (except who else would they be from?), if he hadn’t eaten a bunch of the chocolates until the only ones remaining formed the shape of a cat’s paw.

“Ugh!” Marinette threw her head back and slouched into her office chair. She was so sure that last skylight hatch had been how he was getting in and out. Max had even given her a funny look when she asked to have the locks replaced and the alarms on it tested. Apparently, that was not his entry point.

Lila happened to be walking by and heard the exclamation. The Italian poked her head into the office and spotted the box in her boss’s hands. “Admirer? Or did you finally get a boyfriend?”

Marinette pulled her features into a scowl. She rubbed the bridge of her nose while she threw the chocolates into the trash. “Nuisance,” she growled, “he won’t leave me alone.”

“Ah.” Lila nodded knowingly, “one of those.” She cracked a sympathetic smile. “Max is installing the final adjustments on the north wing security. He’ll be testing it this afternoon for bugs, but he says it should be tight as a drum.”

“Good.” Marinette pushed up from her desk and stretched her aching back muscles. “That means I can rest easy this weekend.” She cast one more look of contempt at the object in the trash. “…I hope,” she added under her breath.

Lila spit out her next sentence like she was embarrassed, “Max asked me to join him for dinner after he’s done here.”

Marinette had to do a double take and whirled on her heal to face the conservator. “Like a date?”

The Italian fiddled nervously with a lock of chocolate brown hair. “…yeah? I mean kinda. He didn’t call it a date; he just mentioned grabbing a bite to eat.” Her eyes darted around before settling on the floor.

“You know Max likes you right?” Marinette placed a hand on her hip and leveled Lila with a hard look.

“…yeah?” Lila was being evasive.

There was a long and tense silence between the two women. Marinette was worried about Max. She feared for his fragile heart, and that he’d get his hopes up only to be dashed. Lila was an insatiable flirt, who had yet to show genuine feelings for anyone. But then it was never Marinette’s place to police her friend’s relationships. Max was free to like whomever he wanted, he didn’t need his boss and old friend meddling.

“Just, don’t toy with him. Please.” There was something about the way Lila brought it up to her. It was as if she were asking permission, or seeking approval.

Neither woman said another word. Lila left looking deep in thought, and Marinette decided she needed to get away for a while.

000

Away ended up being a weekend at her parent’s place. Tikki assured her that a weekend off wouldn’t cause the museum to descend into ruin and chaos. So, with slight reservation Marinette indulged in a mini-vacation. Tom and Sabine Dupain-Cheng were delighted when their daughter showed up at their door and invited her in with open arms. The bakery was already in full swing that Saturday morning, so after the warm greeting, Marinette went upstairs to drop off her things, and raced back down to assist her parents.

I take a weekend away from work, just to go do more work. The irony made her smile. At the very least, working at the bakery was cathartic. It was a job Marinette grew up doing, and something she could do without giving it much thought. The smell of fresh baked bread was comforting and it allowed her mind to go back to a simpler time.

Marinette eased back into bakery work like slipping on an old night shirt. It was comfortable, and it felt right. She dodged her tiny mother, and ducked the elbows of her giant father. Customers came and went in cascades. By the time evening rolled around they’d sold most of their stock, and Tom declared it a wonderful day.

“It’s because our little girl was here today,” he announced. “Her smile always brings in the customers.”

“Papa!” Marinette blushed. “It had nothing to do with me.”

Sabine squeezed around her daughter, taking a bunch of the display dishes to the kitchen for cleaning. “Nonsense dear, even if your father is embellishing, it still makes our day easier and livelier to have you around.” Her mother reached up a placed a kiss on Marinette’s cheek.

“How’s work at the museum coming along?” Tom swapped the sign on the shop over to closed and locked the door. “I heard the big exhibit got delayed.”

The dark cloud hovering over Marinette returned with a downpour at the mention of her real job. “It’s a mess,” she complained, slumping over and resting her head against the now empty counter. “The exhibit was delayed. They’re installing a new security system in the whole building, and the repairs on the damaged property just finished days ago. The only thing going right is that I have all the labels done for the exhibit pieces, and the pamphlets are all printed and good to go”

Tom gave her a sympathetic look while he wiped off the tables.

Marinette continued to vent her stress. “Max just finished updating the north wing today. My office is overrun with programmers! I had Juleka send my scathing letter to the curators in London. Chloe came by to yell at me for being an idiot at her party. I somehow insulted Adrien Agreste. Adrien-freaking-AGRESTE! And despite all the locks I’ve changed and alarms we’ve updated, I still can’t keep Chat Noir out of the bloody building. But Lila is finally coming around, which has made life at work infinitely easier.” When she finished her head was buried in her arms and her shoulders were shaking.

Tom dropped the rag he was holding and fixed his daughter with a look of alarm. “Wait honey, Chat Noir?”

Marinette wanted to die right then and there. She hadn’t meant to let mention of him slip, she was just so caught up in her rant. Tentatively, she peeked over her arms at her father.

“Chat Noir, the cat burglar wanted internationally? The same one that robbed that casino in Monte Carlo?”

Marinette couldn’t even respond, she just stared at her father and pulled her mouth into a thin hard line.

“He’s been robbing your museum? How long?”

“Well… he hasn’t actually stolen anything yet. We’ve just found evidence that he’s been inside the building.” The curator dragged a finger over the glass on the countertop. This was a conversation she’d been trying to avoid with anyone and everyone for weeks.

“Is he casing the place?” Sabine startled both father and daughter when she walked out of the back to join the conversation.

“Something like that,” murmured Marinette, burying her face into her arms again. “My team is working to secure the building and keep him from getting inside.”

“I don’t like this.” Tom declared in a stern voice. He threw his arms over his chest and adopted the ‘disapproving Dad’ pose. “This is dangerous, Marinette. First the armed robbers a few weeks ago, and now Chat Noir? What if you get hurt, kidnapped or killed? Being a curator makes you a target if someone wanted sensitive information”

The thought that Chat might’ve taken an interest in her because he wanted to glean information from her crossed Marinette’s mind not for the first time. In his defense, he hadn’t harmed her in any way, and he wasn’t wanted for any heinous crimes like rape, kidnapping or murder. That’s not to say he didn’t have the capacity to commit them. He was a criminal after all; some part of his moral compass had to be damaged for him to take a fancy in thievery.

“I’m not quitting my job, Papa,” Marinette finally grumbled from the counter.

“Why not?” he demanded. “You can find different work. We’d even take you on here at the bakery till you found something better. You’ve always liked designing; you could send a portfolio over to Gabriel Fashion and try to get in there.”

Before Marinette could even begin to form a retort, Sabine cut in.

“Tom, that’s enough!” Marinette’s tiny little mother squared her shoulders and fixed her husband with a hard look. “This is your daughter’s career, and she’s worked hard to get where she is. You can’t just bully her into quitting when things get hard. There’s going to be tough scrapes no matter what path she chooses in life.” Sabine turned away from Tom and turned her attention to her daughter. “I’m proud of you, sweetheart. Just make sure you stay safe.”

Marinette peeked out of her arms and smiled sheepishly at her mother. “I’m trying. The new security should help a lot, and this exhibit is my responsibility. I can’t abandon everyone.”

Sabine nodded sagely. Tom frowned behind his bushy mustache, but didn’t say anything.

“Can we not talk about my job anymore?” begged Marinette. “I came here to get away from it all, not stress myself out further.”

“Of course!” assured Sabine. She brightened up and shot Tom another look. “We’ll finish cleaning up down here, why don’t you run upstairs and get a movie going. We can order in, and have a movie night.”

“That,” Marinette began with a wistful tone, “sounds so so wonderful right now.” She bounced from behind the counter and placed a kiss on her father’s cheek, then leaned down to kiss her mother before bounding off toward the stairs.

0000

The sun was shining in on Matinette when she woke up the next morning curled up on her parent’s couch. The curtains did very little to block out the light, she blinked groggily and reached for her cell phone.

10:00am.

Marinette couldn’t remember the last time she slept in till ten am. Things at the museum had been so hectic she couldn’t afford to sleep so late, and even on her days off she had to get up early to run personal errands. She cast a glance around the room and found a plate full of pastries, a thermos of coffee, and a note from her parents.

She picked up the note and skimmed it over, smiling while she picked up a croissant and took a bite.

00

Two hours later, Marinette wandered into the bakery dressed in jeans and a spare uniform top. One that her parents kept handy for the staff. She washed her hands in the sink and went out to the front to assist waiting on the customers with her Mother.

“Good Morning, Mama,” she greeted, leaning in to kiss her Mother’s cheek and stand beside her.

Sabine returned the greeting and laughed. “It’s already past noon, darling.”

Mother and daughter fell into a routine, helping customers and catching up on gossip in between. They didn’t even notice when a familiar red-head entered the bakery until he was already at the counter smiling shyly.

“Excuse me?”

A soft voice caught Marinette’s attention. She whirled around on her heel and nearly fell over herself in surprise. “N-Nathaniel?!”

The man smiled sheepishly and waved.

Marinette couldn’t believe her eyes. She hadn’t seen Nathaniel in ages. He was another old friend from her high school days, one that had shared her interest in art.

“You’re looking great!” She finally found her words, “wow, you’ve changed.” She couldn’t hold back the smile that stretched her face.

“Speak for yourself,” chuckled Nathaniel shyly. “It’s been what, seven years since I saw you?”

“Something like that.”

Sabine glanced back and forth between the two of them, then smiled. “Why don’t you kids go take a seat at the table over there and catch up?” She motioned for them to take their conversation someplace less in the way of everything.

Nathaniel blushed with embarrassment and apologized, but Marinette wiped her hands off and joined him on the other side of the counter. She followed him to the table and the two of them sat down.

“Is this what you are up to these days?’ he asked, glancing around the bakery curiously.

“Working at the bakery? What? No!” Marinette flailed her hands about. “I just stopped in for the weekend, and I’m helping out. I’m actually a curator. I’m organizing and running the new Egyptian exhibit at the Belleville Museum.”

“Oh wow,” murmured Nathaniel appreciatively.

“What about you?” Marinette leaned in on her elbows.

Nathaniel fidgeted nervously and looked down. “Nothing like what you’re doing, but I’m an art professor these days.”

“Nath, what are you saying, that’s amazing!”

His eyes shot up and he smiled behind a blush, his hair hiding half of his face just like it used to back in their school days.

Nathaniel had always been super shy, using his appearance and posture as a barrier to put space between himself and people. He hadn’t changed a lot since then, his clothes were still dark and concealing, and his hair was still long, brushing his shoulders. But he had gotten taller; he was really tall now, over six feet. His jaw had gotten sharper and his shoulders and chest were broader. His face would’ve still been pretty effeminate if not for the soul patch he’d grown just below his bottom lip. It was a stylish bit of facial hair, and it suited him.

“I-uh,” Nathaniel started. “I can’t actually stay long.” He cast an apologetic glance at Marinette. “I just stopped in for coffee and a snack; I’m going to be late for a meeting.”

Marinette shot up from her seat like a cat. “Oh God, I am so sorry Nath. I can get it for you!” She quickly took his order and dashed behind the counter to put it together for him. “You should have said something, I didn’t know.” It was so like him to be too shy to assert himself.

“It’s ok, Mari,” he assured, watching her rush about with a fire under her feet.

When she finished gathering together his order she placed them on the counter with another rushed apology.

“Really, it’s ok,” Nathaniel chuckled. He hesitantly took the box and coffee from her.

Marinette smiled, and bid him a polite farewell, but he continued to stand there. His eyes cast down at the floor while he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“Hey, uh,” he started, “it’s been ages, and we really should catch up sometime.” He looked up with a bit more determination. “Would you be free to hang out on Wednesday? We could get lunch at a café or something.”

Marinette’s thoughts wandered back to work and how busy she’d be. She didn’t usually have time for lunches. Thoughts of work led her mind back to another annoyance; the filthy cat that kept getting inside the museum and littering it with his gifts. She remembered the night when Chat kissed her, and how easily she’d melted into that kiss, and it caused her skin to burn with anger all over again.

This is my chance, she thought. This is my chance to prove I’m not attracted to that mongrel. If I spend time with Nath and start feeling the same things I’ll know it’s because I’m lonely, and not because I actually like a thief. Nath won’t have to know and I’ll finally have my answers to this Chat problem.

Her eyes shot up so fast it startled the red-head waiting for her answer. “I’d love to catch up Nath.” She scribbled her number on a bakery order ticket and handed it to him. “Just give me a call closer to Wednesday with the location and time. I’ll be there.”

His face broke out in a wide smile, and Marinette couldn’t help but return it. She watched him wave goodbye and walk out of the bakery with a lightness that hadn’t been there before.

Chapter Text

Max was sitting in his office hunched over his desk on Monday, just the same as any other day Marinette saw him.  His hair was down, spilling over his neck and brushing his shoulders, and his clothes were different. Gone was his tweed jacket and suspenders. Today he wore a cream-colored button-down shirt, cuffs rolled up to his elbows, and dark brown slacks. The jacket he had thrown over his chair was also dark brown, long, and made of faux leather.

“Either, Chloe updated your wardrobe, or you’re trying really hard to impress someone.” Marinette perched on the corner of his desk. A desk that had once been the home of numerous wrappers and garbage. The desk was now clean, along with the rest of his office. “I’m going to assume it’s the latter, based on everything else I see.” Her eyes finished sweeping the spotless office.

“Not a word.” Max scrunched deeper into his chair, clearly embarrassed.

Marinette patted him on the shoulder. “I hope you at least had a good time.” She said in a low sincere tone.

Max only smiled. She knew he wasn’t one to gossip, or gush over happy occurrences in his life. It was enough that he was happy.

She left Max to his work and made her way to her own office. There was a tech guy in there on his laptop when Marinette entered. She gave him a polite nod and he looked up at her curiously.

“You the boss?”

“…Yeah?” She quirked a brow at him while she hung up her jacket.

The programmer nodded towards her desk. “You got a card. It was stuck in the door this morning.”

Her eyes followed the tech guy’s nod, and sure enough there was a red envelope sitting on her desk. Looking just as unassuming as every other odd gift she’d been finding lately. The shadow of contempt settled over her at the sight of it and Marinette snatched it up when she sat down in her chair. She shot a quick glance over her shoulder, but the tech guy had returned to his laptop, no longer interested in her.

Marinette tore open the envelop and pulled out the card. It was plain. Very plain. Just a blank white card. She opened it just enough to look inside. There was lovely calligraphy scrawled on the inside forming a brief message. Marinette chanced opening it further to read it.

Are you missing me, Purrincess? Don’t deny it, I know what you are feline for me. I’m sure these gifts aren’t nearly as pleasurable as my person. Purrhaps we shall cross paths again soon…

There was no signature, but the God-awful puns served just as well. She couldn’t believe him, that he had the gall to send her messages like that. She was already running it through the paper shredder, envelope and all. The programmer in her office gave her a funny look, but kept his mouth shut.

I really hate him. Marinette released a groan and raked her fingers over her scalp. She pulled a pencil from her desk and stuck it through the bun she’d pulled her hair into that morning. That was when an idea occurred to her. She pulled a piece of yellow-lined scrap paper from a notepad on her desk and yanked the pencil back out of her hair.

She scribbled down a note in a way that, to the passing observer, would sound like a draft for another scathing letter. Like she was writing it to someone at another museum. In actuality, it was a response to Chat, expressing how much she loathed his behavior and hoped she would never have the displeasure of any future dealings with him. Marinette didn’t both to sign the note, she instead sketched a little picture of the ladybug charm he’d pilfered from her neck the other night. He would recognize it, she was sure a man as cocky as him had to keep trophies. When she finished, Marinette clipped the note next to her computer screen as if it were put there as a reminder to type an angry letter later.

When she stepped out of her office, Juleka was there, Ipad in hand and ready to go to work. Both women left to go start moving some of the exhibit pieces from the vault and finally begin putting the long awaited Egyptian exhibit together.

0000

Nathaniel called Marinette on Tuesday to confirm their lunch on Wednesday. It didn’t take long to hammer out the time and place, and when Wednesday finally rolled around, Marinette found herself sitting at a table outside a little corner coffee shop. It was in a busier district than she was accustomed to frequenting, and the day was very warm. Gone were the breezy crisp spring days, and summer was just starting to take its hold on the French city.

Marinette arrived at their meeting place a half hour early, mostly because she had a habit of being late, and didn’t want to offend her old friend. But another part of her just wanted to get out of her museum. The note she’d left for Chat on Monday was gone. It disappeared sometime during the night on Tuesday, the unnerving part was that she didn’t find any other evidence that the cat burglar had been in the building. No gifts, cards, or other such annoyances. He’d simply snatched up her note and left. It was enough to inform her that he was still getting inside, and that made her sick because the Egyptian exhibit was already being put together. Marinette wondered if he would wait till after it officially opened to steal from it, or if he would rob it while they were still setting up.

A shadow fell over her table, snapping Marinette from her worried thoughts. She glanced up and was pleased to see Nathaniel smiling down at her. He was standing awkwardly next to the other chair, clutching the bag strung over his shoulder, and Marinette had to motion for him to take a seat.

“Did you already order something?” Nathaniel asked when he sat down across from her.

“Not yet,” she answered, “but I already looked at the menu and decided.”

Nathaniel took a minute to browse the menu before Marinette flagged down a waiter and they placed their order.

“Thanks for inviting me to lunch, Nath.”

“Sure.” He just looked down at his hands, which were playing with a napkin.

Several minutes of awkward silence passed before Marinette realized Nathaniel hadn’t changed very much at all in seven years. He was still the shy, awkward, recluse he was back in high school. If they were going to talk it was up to her to initiate the conversation and get the ball rolling.

“So… art professor huh? Does that mean you still do a lot of your own art?” Nathaniel Kurtzberg

Nathaniel’s head jerked up at the mention of drawing. “Y-yeah!” He exclaimed, eyes lighting up in the process. “Did you want to see? I mean, I brought my Ipad with me. I could show you.” He was already reaching for the bag slung over the back of his chair.

“I’d be delighted, Nath.” She watched him pull out the device and begin flipping through some files before bringing up his digital portfolio.

“You used to draw a lot too, back in the day.” He began, as he showed her a couple of his latest pieces. Most of them were character designs for various comic books. “Weren’t you going for clothing design back in school?”

“Yeah.” The mention of clothing brought Marinette back. “I was, but then I took a job at the museum to make ends meet and one thing led to another. I ended up switching majors in university and now I’m a curator. Go figure.”

“Well it’s not too farfetched,” assured Nathaniel. “Museums still deal with fine arts, and other things in that field.”

“Yeah.” She replied. “Our museum mainly deals with historical art and artifact exhibits; so it’s not quite the element I dreamed of, but it’s close.” She had to admit that historical artifacts and tapestries were very inspiring, and to say they weren’t gorgeous would be a lie.

“You mentioned running an Egyptian exhibit? Is that open right now?” Nathaniel pulled his Ipad back, having finished showing off his latest works.

Marinette settled back in her chair, “Not yet. It was delayed due to a robbery we had a few weeks ago. We’re in the process of beefing up the security as a response.”

“Did they catch the thieves?”

Nathaniel and Marinette paused their conversation to thank the waiter who delivered the food and coffees to their table. He gave them both a polite nod before whisking away to tend to another customer.

“All the robbers involved were caught and arrested. Thankfully all the stolen property was returned.” Marinette swirled the coffee around with a straw before taking a distracted sip. She tried not to let her mind wander back to that night. She already spent far too much time musing over it, and… other things.

Nathaniel appeared to be deep in thought for a moment, he was moving the food on his plate around with a pensive expression. “Did you hear about the robbery in the Saint Germain district?”

Marinette set her coffee down a little harder than intended and knitted her brow. “No. When did it happen, and where?”

“I’m not surprised if you didn’t hear about it.” Nathaniel took a sip from his own coffee. “It wasn’t exactly a remarkable incident. There was an article about it in the newspaper. Apparently a four-hundred-year-old ring was stolen from a Mr. Gold. Some pawnbroker and antiquities dealer. The object stolen was more notable than the robbery itself. The ring is easily identifiable, so the police are waiting for it to resurface so they can trace it back to the thief.”

“You think a ring with that kind of profile will turn up though? Who’d be stupid enough to try and re-sell it?”

Nathaniel shrugged and finally picked up his sandwich.

They spent the next hour and a half discussing art, and what old friends were up to. Nathaniel was surprised to hear that Max was working with Marinette at the museum as their tech guy. They even discussed Chloe, and how she was sponsoring the new exhibit. When lunch finally ended they made plans to hang out again that Friday for dinner and gallery hopping. Nathaniel wanted to show her a gallery run by the university where he worked, and she offered to show him around her museum after that.

0000

In comparison to lunch, the rest of the day was unremarkable. Marinette and Juleka made decent progress on the set up for the exhibit and were able to go home at a reasonable hour. The curator made it home just before seven pm, and decided to walk down to a local corner market and pick up a few groceries. The sky was an overcast grey when she left her apartment, so she grabbed a long beige cardigan on her way out the door.

When was the last time I actually cooked something for dinner? Work had pretty much taken over Marinette’s life, and there didn’t seem to be time to cook anymore.

A low growl emanated from the sky when Marinette reached the store, and she started to regret leaving an umbrella at home. The sky was already significantly darker than when she left the apartment; the clouds above taking on an angry look with the threat of rain. She decided to keep it brief, hurrying around the market grabbing things for a simple pasta dish before dashing up to the counter to purchase them.

Her attempt to beat the storm was in vain; by the time she started her return home the sky had already opened up and began pouring rain with a vengeance. Little ripples of lightning would dance upon the clouds lighting up the dark Parisian streets. The sun had yet to go down, but you wouldn’t have known given the shadows cast over the city. The wind whipped up and howled to accompany the intermittent crashes of thunder.

Marinette hugged her cardigan closer when a gust of wind and rain pelted icy drops of rain against her skin. After only minutes of walking her clothes were already soaked and sticking to her skin, and the wind made it all the worse, chilling her to the bone. Through the bite of the storm and her desire to get home she almost missed another icy feeling creep down her back. It felt a little different than it usually did, the sting from the icy ants was almost hotter than usual, but she recognized it none the less.

A figure in a long charcoal trench coat fell into step beside her, and she would have recoiled away had she not already felt his presence. The man pulled a large umbrella over the both of them and suddenly she was meeting the familiar gaze of toxic green eyes. Eyes she swore were the product of contact lenses. No one had green sclera and black slitted pupils like that of a feline. He flashed her his usual chesire grin and she had to tear her eyes away before she lost function of her mind.

“Isn’t it a little early for you to be out an’ about?” She asked, gluing her stare to the pavement.

“Night decided to come about early, and I couldn’t resist coming out to play.” He replied in his usual low playful tone.

“And your play just happens to involve stalking me?” She spat a little venomously.

Another gust of wind tore at the umbrella and splashed the both of them with a wave of bitter cold rain. Chat Noir pulled the umbrella closer and wrapped his arm around Marinette’s waist. She tried to protest but his grip was sure, and the slightest bit of warmth his presence lent was more welcome than she would’ve liked.

“My intention was just to follow you,” he admitted. “but I couldn’t turn a blind eye to your inappropriate choice in clothing, given the weather conditions. So here I am playing the role of gentleman, rather than the scoundrel you’ve come to expect.” 

Marinette noted the way his clawed hand tightened on her hip and how his face inched just the tiniest bit closer. “Don’t worry, your image isn’t damaged. I still think you’re a scoundrel,” she shot back.

Chat Noir released a chuckle and leaned in just a little farther, but Marinette was prepared and jabbed him right in the nose, causing the cat burglar to recoil with a start.

“I don’t think so, Kitty.” She growled. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten the last time I let you get too close.”

“Hmmm” He purred, seemingly over the assault to his snout. “I still have that souvenir you gave me.”

“Like hell I gave it to you!” Marinette spat. “You stole that charm!”

A ripple of lightning broke across the sky and lit up Chat Noir’s eyes at the same time, he was grinning playfully from ear to ear at her. “Speaking of which, are you enjoying the gifts I’ve left in your office of late?”

“I’ve thrown them all away, if that’s what you’d like to hear.” Marinette jerked her head away from him and sniffed indignantly. “I don’t make a habit of accepting advances from a criminal.”

He hardly looked offended by the fact that she disposed of his gifts and instead turned his masked face off to the side. “I suppose this cat will only have to try a different approach. If material possessions will not sway you, maybe actions speak louder than objects and words?” They stepped through the gates and into the courtyard of her apartment complex.  Chat never left her side, his arm still wrapped tightly around her hip as if to protect her.

“You know, actions would speak louder than words.” Marinette countered. “Say for example, you left my exhibit alone, I might have a change of heart about you.”

Chat Noir led her up the stone steps to the entrance. He paused at the door, crowding her under the roof of the entryway. “I really doubt that, Purrincess.” He growled leaning in close once more, but this time his eyes burned with a different kind of intensity.

Marinette tore her gaze away from his and traced it down his face and over his neck instead. Beneath the trench coat he wore his usual black leather cat suit. There was a new bell hanging from the collar of his suit, attached to the zipper. It looked just like the one he’d attached to her choker, except it was silver instead of gold.

Chat must’ve followed her eyes, because his next question had to do with the whereabouts of his bell. “Whatever did you do with it, my lady?” He whispered just loud enough for her to hear over the drum of the rain.

When she looked up his face was inches from her own. The proximity caused her heart to stutter and she cursed herself for letting him get too close again. “I-I threw it away.” she lied. Ever since the night he kissed her, Marinette kept that bell tucked away in the drawer of her nightstand, right next to her bed. She couldn’t explain why she kept it there, why she didn’t just throw it out like everything else Chat had given her. Something just compelled her to hold onto it, but she wasn’t about to tell him that.

Chat Noir recoiled from her as if she slapped him. It was the first time she saw actual anger flash across his features. He recovered quickly and drew his brows into an annoyed scowl. “Is that so…” Chat’s tone dropped into a low octave and he practically growled the words out. He laughed but it was hollow sounding, and unnerved Marinette more than anything else. “I have been so kind,” he stated, running the tips of his claws dangerously along the edge of her cheek, “and yet you wound me time and time again.”

When he withdrew his hand, the entryway light caught on a ring she’d never seen before. It was black and set with emeralds, but she was unable to make out the pattern. Marinette scowled at it, but forced her attention back on the cat burglar trapping her against the door.

“You know, as much as I appreciate your gesture with the umbrella, I’d like to go inside now.” She attempted to side step the man but he brought his arm down to prevent her escape. “Let me go.” She warned, her voice taking on an icy quality.

“What is so fascinating about you?” His question seemed more directed at himself than at Marinette. His brows furrowed deeper and his strange eyes only raked her features like he was trying to pull answers from her skin.

Marinette wasn’t sure what sort of answer he was looking for, or why he even asked in the first place. “I was under the impression that your interest in me was nothing more than a ploy to glean information,” she supplied in a haughty tone. Chat shifted his arms at either side of her, and she could hear his faux claws scraping against the wood of the door.

“Don’t lie to yourself, Purrincess.” He began, and his tone was still low and severe. “You know very well that I don’t need anything from you. I’ve been coming and going as it pleases me, and you haven’t been able to stop me.”

“Then why do you continue this charade?” She spat. Her irritation with his perplexing behavior not the least bit masked in her tone. “What could you possibly stand to gain from pursuing me in this way?”

“What indeed?” If she thought his tone couldn’t get any chillier she was sorely mistaken.

“Do you intend to make a victim of me?” Marinette finally posed the question that had been plaguing her mind since she met him. The question she feared to hear the answer to, and hoped naively that he wouldn’t confirm it.

Umbrella sceneChat Noir pulled away from her then, pushing the umbrella into her hands before retreating down a couple steps. He paused just outside the protection of the overhang, and the torrential rain assaulted his body, streaming through his golden colored hair and over his trench coat and cat suit.

“I’m no murderer, Cherie.” There was a strangled quality about his tone, and the force of the rain was causing his fake cat ears to droop pathetically. “The consequences of rape, murder, and kidnapping are different than that of theft.” He paused and cast a glance at their surroundings. The night had already come for real, and the light of the entryway barely penetrated the curtain of rain around him. “Nor do I find any pleasure in that sort of behavior,” He added.

“Why are you telling me this?”

He took another step away from her. “I don’t know… Perhaps it’s because you asked?”

Marinette rolled her eyes and ground her teeth together, she was getting frustrated with the vague responses and noncommittal answers. “You’ve always made a point to evade all my other questions.”

“I should stay away from you.” He said so low she almost couldn’t hear him through the rain.

“Well nothing is stopping you.” She hissed.

“I know.”

Chat Noir vanished into the rain and shadows in that way that only he seemed to be able to. One moment he was there, and the next it was as if the night dissolved him like a corrosive acid. In the wake of his absence Marinette felt a strange feeling in her chest. It was akin to pain, and emptiness and something she didn’t want to name.

0000

Thursday ended up being one of those long days. It was a long day that included work with Lila to top it off.

Marinette started the morning pouring over the museum blueprints again, she isolated a couple areas for Max to take a look at and dropped them off at his office. Then she asked him about security in the west wing, since updates on the north wing were a success. Apparently, things in the west wing were still a little buggy and that was his project for the next two days. He also wasn’t thrilled when Marinette gave him the blueprints with more work to do.

“You know there are at least two other security programmers living in your office right now. You could always give your hyper paranoid entry checks to them.”

“Yes, but I don’t know any of them. You’re my tech guy, so I trust you.”

Max scowled at her from behind his glasses, “I’m so flattered.”

After bothering Max, she joined Juleka in the west wing of the museum to continue assembling the new exhibit. They had two men from the rigging crew today, as well as the preparator, and designer. This meant that they could finally start installing and displaying the larger more impressive pieces of the exhibit. The group hung two giant stone tablets, moved three sarcophagi for the King Tutankhamun section of the exhibit, arranged his scepter for display on a pedestal, erected three vases, and a statue.

Lila came in at four in the afternoon to look over the sarcophagi and polish any smudges that may have been acquired during movement. She was late, per usual, but Marinette didn’t say anything. Instead she sent Juleka off to fetch thermoses of coffee for everyone. The Italian conservator went to work like nothing was the matter, and wouldn’t even look at Marinette.

So much for that progress we were making, thought the curator as she gnawed her lip in irritation.

Other than Lila’s regression into her usual behavior, things went fairly well. The Egyptian exhibit was starting to take form. No one dropped anything, nothing was broken, the designer, although fidgety and nervous, was efficient with a clear idea. Marinette had only worked with this designer once before and he tended to be a little harsh when things didn’t look right. When Juleka returned with coffee for everyone she also picked up food from a local bakery, so Marinette went ahead and gave everyone a break.

The curator took this time to walk through the other sections of the museum; the ones that were open to the public. There were people everywhere, news of the robbery had caused a spike in their patrons. Curious people were now coming into the museum wanting to hear about what happened, and hoping to catch a glimpse of any damage that was caused. Not that they would see any. The crew had already repaired the damage weeks ago. But curious patrons still meant money for the museum.

There was a tour of teenagers there today, part of a class. Several uppity ladies in designer brand clothing, and a handful of university students. Marinette passed several unaccompanied men and women, some were nicely dressed, but others were rather mundane. Two of three of them were nondescript, very plain, and unassuming. They wandered around, some snapped the occasional photo with their phone while others scribbled notes on Museum pamphlets. Marinette didn’t think anything of it when she strolled through.

At one point, she swore she felt his presence. It was just a brief dancing of the prickly feeling, albeit warmer this time, on the back of her neck, but it had ceased the moment she glanced around. She was unable to pick out any suspicious blonds in the crowd, and a circle of the surrounding area failed to resurface the feeling. Marinette waved it off, and told herself he wouldn’t be stupid enough to stalk her during the day inside her museum.

She returned to the west wing about fifteen minutes later and resumed set up with the rest of the team until almost nine in the evening. The rigging crew left at seven pm, the designer and preparator dispersed around eight, and then it was only Lila, Juleka and herself. Marinette tried twice to talk to Lila, but the woman was dead set on keeping their conversations strictly work related. So eventually Marinette gave up.

“You haven’t touched your coffee.” Remarked Juleka.

Marinette spared a glance at the neglected thermos. She opened it up and took a sip, the coffee was still very warm but she couldn’t bring herself to drink it this late at night. Juleka looked at her with a tired expression, they had worked a long day and the little gothic assistant was ready to retire and go home for the night. Marinette was also ready to go home and die for the night.

“Lila,” She called, getting the attention of the busy conservator. “Clean up, we’re done for the night.” The Italian didn’t have to be told twice; she grabbed her things and raced off to put them away, almost too eager to escape the curator and her assistant.

“I’m going to have a word with Max,” murmured Marinette once Lila was gone. “She’s acting weird.”

Juleka gave her a long-bored look before casting her gaze in the direction the conservator went. “Don’t you mean she’d acting like she always did before the night you played buddies fixing the scepter?”

“Yes. I thought we were finally coming to an understanding.”

Her assistant scoffed in amusement, and Marinette cocked a brow at her.

“Get out of here, and go grab our things from the office.” She waved her assistant away with an exasperated sigh. “I’ll catch up with you in a second, I just want to check on something.”

Juleka scampered off, heels clicking against the tile, and Marinette waited until she couldn’t hear them anymore. When she was truly alone, she spared a long look at her neglected thermos of coffee. Teeth scraped her bottom lip as a fierce internal battle waged in her head. The right thing to do would be to take the thermos home and dump it out, but she also felt a twisted need to return a favor.

What is wrong with me? She couldn’t seem to get their last conversation out of her mind. Something about his tone and the way he looked at her ate away at her insides, making her chest feel heavy.

It was with great reluctance that Marinette pulled a sharpie from her pocket and scribbled a message on the lid on the thermos. She left the west wing and placed the thermos on a bench she knew was located in a blind spot of the security cameras. If it was still there in the morning someone would just assume she’d forgotten it, and throw it out; so, she wasn’t concerned if the coffee never made it to the intended recipient. Marinette left without casting another look, and joined Juleka in the office wing so they could walk out to the parking garage together.

The only note she wrote on the thermos was, “Thanks for the umbrella.”Finding the Coffee Thermos

Chapter Text

“Nathaniel?” Alya cried. She stood in the middle of Marinette’s apartment with a hand stuck to her hip, looking absolutely appalled. “Nathaniel Kurtzberg?”

The journalist stopped by while Marinette was getting ready for her not-really-a-date on Friday. Her intention was to take Marinette out for drinks to celebrate the success of her articles, and being in Chloe’s good graces. But when she found out Marinette already had plans, she became persistent to worm information from her.

“What’s wrong with Nath?”

Alya dropped her brow and fixed her friend with a look. “I was under the impression you weren’t interested in him.”

Marinette shrugged brushing her hair out of the bun she kept it in all day. She let it fall loose over her shoulders and added a flowered hair clip just above her right ear. “It’s been seven years, and we decided to catch up. This isn’t a real date, Alya.” 

“God, I hope he’s aware of that.” The journalist’s tone was so acerbic it could’ve sheared through metal.

Marinette turned away from her bedroom mirror and gave Alya a perplexed look. “You think Nathaniel has a thing for me?”

Her best friend’s face dropped into an unimpressed scowl. “Mari, that boy was carrying a torch for you the size of Spain when we were in school. I hardly think it’s a coincidence that he suddenly wants to catch up seven years later.” She rubbed the side of her temple and squeezed her eyes shut with exasperation. “How can you be this dense?”

Marinette paled at Alya’s explanation, and her heart dropped into the pits of her stomach. “Well shit. I thought he was a safe bet for my experiment.”

Alya’s brows shot up and she stared at Marinette with the look of a blood hound when they picked up the smell of something interesting. “What experiment?”

The nervous swallow Marinette took could be heard in every part of the room. Instead of responding she just pulled her mouth into a thin hard line.

What experiment, Mari?” Alya stressed even further. “Are you using Nathaniel? Because if you are, I’m going to kick your ass! You know better than that! You are better than that!” Her friend began gesticulating wildly to emphasize her point. The longer she yelled the angrier her face got until she was just breathing heavily and glaring pole-darts through the curator’s face.

Marinette retreated into a defeated slump on the edge of her bed, and just stared at her feet pathetically. “I’m so stupid,” she whispered. “There’s this guy, and I kinda hate him, but he also makes me feel…” Marinette ground her teeth together as she tried to find a word that adequately described her feelings. “uh… he makes my heart… yeah.

“So, you like this… guy-who-is-not, Nath?” Alya deduced.

“I don’t like him!”

Alya rolled her eyes. “Right. Go on.”

Marinette sighed in frustration and buried her face in her palms, threading her fingers through her thick bangs. “I don’t like him, I want him. There is a difference! And I don’t want to want him, it just happens whenever he’s around. I thought it was because I haven’t been with a man in two years. So, I thought if I spent some time around Nathaniel, I’d prove to myself…” She trailed off in embarrassment and shame, making a noise of defeat.

“Oh…” Alya said in a tone of understanding and sympathy. “Oh~!” She added her voice taking on a level of amusement. The journalist came over to perch on the edge of the bed next to Marinette. “Girl, you have it bad for a guy.”

Marinette groaned and curled in on herself even further, “I’m a horrible person.”

“Yes, you are,” said Alya matter-of-factly. “And you need to set this straight when you see Nathaniel tonight, but I want to hear about this other guy. Who is he?”

“I…” Matinette started. “I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?” Alya demanded, suddenly offended.

“Because I just can’t, Alya!” I’ll lose my job, I’ll go to prison as an accomplice to theft, and my life will be ruined, Marinette added mentally. She gave her friend a desperate look, willing Alya to understand what she couldn’t tell her. “Please, you have to trust that I can’t tell you about him.”

Both women stared at each other for several long minutes. Alya was searching Marinette’s eyes, and Marinette was trying to convey the severity of her predicament without telling her best friend the details.

Finally, Alya let out a sigh, and relented. “I’ll accept that you can’t tell me right now, for whatever reason. But Mari, I’m your best friend. You can trust me with anything, even if it’s burying a dead body.”

Marinette breathed a sigh of relief and her posture sank with her.

“I want to hear about this mystery guy, eventually,” continued Alya. “It’s not fair, you letting slip something so interesting and then keeping it to yourself. I am a journalist after all, I live off gossip.”

I know, thought Marinette. That’s part of the reason I’m too afraid to tell you.

Alya helped Marinette to her feet, and gave her a reassuring slap on the shoulder. The curator gave her a weak smile that reflected the pain and trepidation in her heart.

“I need to get ready,” Marinette said in a subdued tone. “I have to try and let an old friend down, gently.”

“It’s the right thing.”

“I know.”

0000

Throughout the entirety of dinner, Marinette was unable to work up the courage to say anything to Nathaniel. He met up with her outside of the Indian restaurant they agreed on for dinner. Nathaniel was dressed in a nice white button down, with a casual deep dark red sport coat and black slacks. It was nice, but not out of character for him. So, Marinette held out hope that he didn’t assume the night to be a romantic date.

Marinette chose something pretty but informal as well. After her talk with Alya she made a point to avoid anything openly flirty. She showed up dressed in a sleeveless v-neck grey knit top, black leggings, leather boots, and a maroon leather jacket. She wore minimal jewelry, just some dark red earring studs, and a simple silver chain.

Nathaniel smiled when he first saw her, but the uncomfortable feeling she got was from guilt and not from anything else.

Alya was right. I’m so stupid, and I should’ve been completely upfront with Nathaniel before all of this. Their conversations over dinner remained neutral and friendly. They continued to discuss old friends, work, and their hobbies. She learned that Nathaniel had already published two comic books, and was the artist behind no less than two web comics. In return Marinette showed off the articles of her outfit that she made by hand. She explained that she preferred to make her own clothing if she found the time, and only purchased clothes occasionally.

After dinner, she followed Nathaniel to the gallery operated by the university that he worked at. The receptionist was not very thrilled to have guests show up fifteen minutes before closing, but she made an exception because Nathaniel worked there.

“Are you sure it’s ok for us to be here so late?”

Nathaniel shrugged but directed Marinette into a wing full of student pieces. For a while he pointed out and talked about several art pieces made by his students, but eventually their conversations dwindled down to polite appreciation of the art. The gallery was humble, but also quaint, and Marinette was starting to get bored.

“What did that ring look like? The one that was stolen from the pawnbroker in the Saint Germain district?” Marinette recalled the conversation they had over lunch on Wednesday, and the strange ring she caught Chat wearing that same night.

“It was a cat ring, of all things,” chuckled Nathaniel. “The description sounded like a gaudy old-lady ring. It’s supposed to look like the head of a cat, with two emeralds set for the eyes, and a ruby in the center of its forehead.”

Marinette thought back to Chat’s ring, and remembered how the light of her entryway caught on it. She could’ve sworn it had emeralds, but she wasn’t sure about the shape of it.

“Think you might’ve seen it somewhere?” He asked, breaking her from her thoughts.

Marinette shook her head and grinned. “No. I think I would’ve remembered a ring that ridiculous.”

They fell into silence again, and began heading back for the entrance of the gallery. No doubt the receptionist was getting antsy to close and go home.

“Hey Nath,” started Marinette. She bit the side of her mouth and steeled her nerves. “I didn’t want to assume, but…” She trailed off unable to put to words what she wanted to say.

Nathaniel watched her carefully for several moments until realization lit up his eyes. “Oh, Marinette, I didn’t… It’s not…” He too trailed off, his face flushing a deep crimson with embarrassment.

“This isn’t a real date.” Marinette hedged. “This is just friends hanging out and catching up?”

“Right.” Nathaniel stared at his shoes, face still clashing painfully with his burnt copper hair. “I swear I didn’t have expectations beyond friendship when I invited you for lunch on Wednesday.”

“Okay.” She breathed, still unsure but slightly relieved.

“I apologize if I’ve made you uncomfortable.” Nathaniel was starting to look as guilty as Marinette felt.

“Please don’t apologize.” She insisted. “I should’ve said something earlier.”

“I probably could’ve put forth more of an effort to make that clear.” He amended, but Marinette shook her head vigorously.

“I’m just glad we’re both on the same page.”

“Yeah.” They both fell into a long silence, until Nathaniel lifted his head and changed the subject on his own. “A-are you still going to show me your museum?”

Marinette smiled, and felt a huge weight lift off her chest at his words. “Only if you still want to see it.”

“Of course!” Nathaniel chirped, and light returned to his smoky green eyes. “But isn’t it closed at this hour?” They walked past the reception desk and stepped out into the Parisian twilight. The last rays of the sun were licking the edges of the sky, and stars were already beginning to twinkle in the inky blue on the opposite horizon.

“I have a free pass at all hours.” She gave him a playful wink. “One of the perks when you’re the curator. The boss gets to go to work whenever she pleases. I’ll have to check you in with the night guards though.”

Nathaniel looked intrigued, and released a quiet chuckle.

 


 

Chat Noir’s POV

It was after hours at the museum and a man clad in black leather lounged in the Belleville museum curator’s computer chair. The lights were off, room bathed in darkness; the only light came from the curator’s office monitor.

“What’s the password for her computer?” He cast his green eyes around the interior of Marinette’s office. The subtle murmur of a voice in his ear was the only response to his question. “No, it doesn’t but I wanted to leave her another present. To pay her back for the coffee,” he added the last part as if that made his request all the more reasonable.

Another murmur in his ear, and his claws began tapping keys in response. “Leaving her another rose would be lazy. I need to keep my lady on her toes.” He purred the last part, resting his chin on the palm of his hand. The light from the monitor illuminated his face in the dark, and if anyone were there they would’ve seen his wistful smile and hazy expression.

“Plagg, she already knows her computer security is compromised. How else would I be getting in and out all the time? This will be old news. If anything, it’ll just irritate the hell out of her.” He released a chuckle and opened the settings on her computer.

Five minutes later, a quick internet search for an image and a little messing around, Chat Noir locked down the curator’s computer and stepped away from it.

Another buzz of noise sounded in his ear, but this time it was impatient.

“I’m on my way out now. I checked the new exhibit on my way in; they haven’t put it out yet. I’ll have to try again in a few days.”

Chat Noir scampered up the wall of Marinette’s office, pushing aside one of the flimsy ceiling tiles. The office wing of the building was put in after the museum was built. The offices were modern rooms built inside the architecture of the older museum and there was a section where the air ducts, wiring and other bits ran through the ceiling above the offices. The space proved just big enough to serve as a crawlspace for electricians or other maintenance workers. It also allowed for a certain cat burglar to come and go from the offices as he pleased.

The crawlspace let out in a maintenance room which is where pilfering Marinette’s keys had come in handy. He no longer had to pick the locks on the door every time he wanted to move in and out. Chat Noir pressed his ear to the door, listening for movement on the other side. Usually he listened for the foot falls of night guards, the screech of a two-way radio, or the occasional voice.

Tonight, he heard voices, but they weren’t the tones he was accustomed to. There were two people, and they were speaking in a jovial, friendly manner. He leaned in further, curious.

These people are touring the museum. He deduced, picking up what sounded like small talk. Who could be touring the museum at this hour? “Plagg, what do you see on camera?” He hissed.

When the voices had passed he pulled out the set of maintenance keys and waited for the response in his ear piece.

“She’s here? Right now?” His ear piece buzzed with a cackling sound. “I am not excited! Just surprised. What is she doing?”

He unlocked the door and eased himself out along the wall, careful not to make a sound when he closed it after himself. Chat Noir crept across the tile and pressed against one of the marble pillars, he spared his surroundings a quick glance before leaping up, and digging his claws into a ridge. Using his upper body strength, he pulled himself up, one hand at a time, careful not to leave any marks from his boots on the polished surface.

He scaled the pillar to the arched ceiling and kicked off landing on a stylish outcropping high up on the wall. From there he crawled along on all fours, picking through the ceiling architecture, hands and feet sure of their placing, having traveled these paths so often. It was one of the perks from frequent visits to the museum. He became familiar with the layout, but it also meant the risk was higher. Each excursion ran the risk of tripping an alarm or getting caught.

Perched aboveChat paused above two figures in the east wing of the museum. He perched, back pressed against a pillar, foot propped against a wall to keep him suspended above them. Even if they happened to look up, they wouldn’t see him. It was too dark, and his suit made him right at home in the shadows.

But look up she did. He could pick her face out of a crowd at this point. Curved chin, soft cheeks, and a wide round nose with a deep swoop of the bridge. She had hair the color of a raven’s feather. Black, but in the right light it shone with hues of blue or violet. His gaze fixed on the most gorgeous pair of blue eyes he had ever seen. She was looking right at him, but she didn’t see him.

An amused grin broke across his face as he watched her. She felt him, he knew. It was the only reason for her to be looking around the way she was. He spared a look at her company and his mouth curled into a frown. He drew his brows together in a scowl and scrutinized the tall red-headed man.

“Who is she with?” His voice spoke in a low quiet register. His earpiece buzzed with a response, and his lip curled in disgust. “If he doesn’t work here, he shouldn’t be in the museum with her,” he growled.

 

The red-head asked Marinette a question and she tore her gaze away from the ceiling to answer him. A minute later she grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him towards a different part of the museum. Chat Noir watched her fake a laugh and tug at the man’s arm earnestly.

“I don’t think so Purrincess,” he growled. “You aren’t avoiding me that easily.” Chat pushed off the wall his foot was propped against and began moving again. He scaled the ceiling until they stopped near the Egyptian exhibit.

 Marinette threw a scowl over her shoulder, and her eyes searched the darkness again. When she didn’t see anything, she turned her attention back to the man and asked him a question. Chat Noir sneered down at them, taking delight in her reactions to his presence.

His earpiece gave an annoyed buzz, and Chat made a face.

“I don’t care, Plagg. She brought her date here, as far as I’m concerned its fair game.” His ear buzzed again. “Well what else could he be?”

Chat Noir watched the curator push back the plastic sheets blocking off the Egyptian exhibit and lead the red-headed man inside. His scowl returned and he dug his claws into a ceiling beam.

“Very clever, Princess,” he mused with a level of frustration in his tone. I won’t be able to follow without causing the plastic to crinkle.

He contemplated entering the wing from a different direction, but he would encounter the same problems. Marinette had successfully isolated herself with the other man, and it only made Chat seethe inside.

After a moment of contemplation, he dropped from the ceiling, slid down a pillar and hit the tile with a muted thud. His ear piece buzzed indignantly but Chat ignored it and crept up to the plastic barrier. He strained his ears to hear the voices inside, but they were muffled from the distance and plastic sheets.

Chat Noir ground his teeth and released a hard breath from his nose. He almost turned to leave when he heard Marinette laugh, and cry out a playful, “Stop it, Nath!” His hands flew to the belt at his hip and he rummaged around in one of the pouches, pulling out a small device.

“Sorry buddy, I need to put you on silent for a bit.”

The voice from his earpiece hissed sharply but Chat shut off that frequency and synced it to the device in his hand instead. Then he stuck the device to the frame of the west wing entrance, flipped up a small dish, and turned up the sensitivity on it.

The staticky voices of Marinette and the red-haired man suddenly filled his ear. They were accompanied by noisy footsteps, the hum of the building, and the occasional sound of Marinette’s leather jacket brushing against itself. Satisfied, he retreated into the shadows and back up the pillar, resuming his spot suspended from the ceiling.

“-about over here?” Static cut off the first part of the question.

“That’s our hieroglyphics section.” Marinette explained. There was the sound of footsteps as the couple moved to another area of the exhibit. “There are still a few pieces left to go on displ-“

“Oh my God, a giant rock!” The man suddenly cut her off with his obtuse exclamation.

Marinette laughed, and the sound caused the microphone to spasm with a flurry of static sounds. Chat winced and played with the volume on his ear piece.

“-think that’s impressive,” the curator’s voice finally came back. “Come over here, you’ve got to see this.”

The echoing footfalls resumed, while the man remarked, “Ok, but it’s going to be tough to beat that giant rock.” There was a chorus of chuckles between the two and Chat just wanted to gag. “Oh my God, another giant rock!”

The earpiece erupted in another fit of static due to their laughter, and Chat could feel the hairs on the back of his neck bristle while he waited for the sound to come back.

“-ock it off, Nathaniel.” Marinette’s voice returned again. “They’re stone tablets depicting legends of Ra and Anubis.”

“I know.” Defended the male. “I’m just giving you a hard time,” he added in a lower tone.

The earpiece suddenly cut out and a shrill beep caused Chat to cringe and adjust his position against a support beam. The familiar voice of Plagg buzzed in his ear with a string of curses and warnings.

“You hacked my earpiece frequency?” Chat Noir hissed.

The voice whined at him again.

Chat glared off into space, his teeth grinding together. “Fine,” he finally snarled. Seconds later he dropped down, and collected his device from the exhibit entrance, tucking it back into the pouch on his utility belt. He contemplated lingering a moment longer, but the sound of boots against tile down another hall made up his mind.

He barely scaled the side of the pillar, making it back into the shadows of the ceiling, when a night guard strolled through the recently vacated corridor. The armed guard stopped outside the west wing entrance and pulled aside the plastic sheets. He called to the curator and her guest, and Chat deduced that he was only checking in on them.

His earpiece barked angrily once more, and Chat Noir huffed before taking off for his usual exit.

Once outside he vaulted across the tops of several roofs, straining his leg muscles to make the long jumps between buildings, then dropped down into an alley where a black Jaguar F-type awaited. Chat punched in the code for the door and wrenched it open with more force than necessary. Once behind the wheel he started the engine and peeled out of the alley and into the streets of Paris.

“Plagg, find out who that Nathaniel guy is,” he instructed with a voice of ice. “The man you saw on camera with my curator tonight.”

He fell silent for a moment while the voice on the other end of the earpiece spoke to him. Chat Noir tore the fake ears from his hair, and pulled the mask off his face, breathing a sigh when his skin could breathe again.

“Yeah yeah, I’ll pick you up some cheese on my way back.”

Chapter Text

Marinette’s POV

“God Damn it!” The curse she gave out made the programmer in her office jump out of his seat and fix her with a look of incredulity.

Marinette slammed her fist into the surface of her desk and glared so hard at her computer monitor that it was a miracle it didn’t melt into a puddle of plastic and wiring. The programmer leaned in to see what she was so upset about and had to stifle a coarse chuckle. She snapped her eyes over to the tech guy and glowered at him with just as much venom, but he didn’t seem at all affected by it.

“So, you like cats?” The man asked, his small mouth pulling into a cheeky grin.

“No.” Growled Marinette. “Actually, I don’t.” She turned away from the tech guy and pulled up the settings on her computer so she could change the background.

Somehow, and she wasn’t sure how, Chat had hacked into her computer. The picture marring her desktop was a man’s body, stretched out over a carpet, wearing nothing but underwear and covered in rose petals; except someone had photo shopped the head of a black cat on the man. She knew it was Chat’s doing, because it was obvious. Marinette had just finished swapping the background to something work appropriate when the programmer spoke to her again.

“Someone at the office has a poor sense of humor,” he chuckled.

“Something like that,” murmured the curator. She glanced at the tech guy and realized she hadn’t actually seen much of this one. He usually worked while she was busy in other parts of the museum and he never stayed late. She couldn’t even recall which museum he was from, just that he was one of the temps brought on to help.

The man noticed her staring and raised a thin brow. “Hey, the name’s Felix Yersinia.” His greeting was more of a mockery than cordial but he held out his hand anyway. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, I usually just call you boss.”

Marinette mulled over whether to give her first or last to this man; she decided both since that’s what he provided. “Marinette Dupain-Cheng,” she returned the greeting and shook his tiny hand. Marinette looked down, the man really did have small hands. This prompted her to scrutinize the rest of him a little more.

Plagg (Félix)Felix was a round man, squat with small hands and feet. He kind of reminded her of an Italian plumber from a popular video game, sans the ridiculous mustache of course. Felix had dark brown hair that was slicked back, skin that was a toasty tan color and he wore unremarkable clothing; white T-shirt, sleeveless black button down, and black slacks. His large eyes were constantly shining with amusement as if he were taking pleasure in a joke no one else was privy to.

She moved her attention to the desk he was set up on. It was covered with the usual paraphernalia the programmers had, and food wrappers. Unusual food wrappers though.

“You like… cheese?” she prompted.

Felix spared a glance at the empty round box on his desk full of wax paper. “Yeah,” he replied. “I love cheddar, and swiss, but especially camembert.” He gestured to the empty box before scraping it into the trash.

Marinette decided that was probably why he was so round.

“Almost as much as you like cats,” he added slyly and wiggled his brows. “Though I’d prefer my camembert with a more feminine body.” He added the last part with a nasally chuckle.

“I do not like cats!” howled Marinette. She threw her head back and slouched into her chair.

“Good, I don’t like them either.”

Both Marinette and Felix started, and bolted upright to face the woman who just intruded upon their conversation. Tikki had her head poked in the office, hands braced against the threshold and she was grinning from ear to ear. Her frizzy red hair was down today and made a mane around her head that could rival a lion. She was dressed in a smart navy colored blazer and pencil skirt, looking every part of the director that she was.

“What kind of women hate cats so much?” whined Felix. He wrinkled his nose and swiveled his chair around to face both ladies. “What are you, dog people?” He swapped his gaze between both bosses, directing his question at either.

“Hamster person,” volunteered Marinette, unashamed. “Hamsters, or ferrets.”

“I don’t like animals” Tikki remarked. “I like inanimate objects.”

Felix rolled his eyes and turned away from the women, burying his head in his work and pretending to ignore them.

“How’s that exhibit coming along?” asked the director. She fixed her attention on Marinette. “It’s due to open in a week.”

The curator pushed up from the chair and grabbed her phone from atop the desk. “I’ll fill you in on the way to the vault. We’re supposed to work on the Bastet and Horus section today.” Marinette followed Tikki out of the office and their excited chatter faded off into the distance.

Felix cast a glance over his shoulder and shook his head, turning back to his computer with a conceited grin on his face.

0000

Adrien’s POV

A black Jaguar F-type sat in the parking lot of a Parisian university on Monday evening. It was in the faculty parking looking as suspicious as the car was pretentious. Adrien sat behind the wheel, concealed by the tinted windows, glowering at the university building like it personally offended him. His arms were crossed over his chest and he was getting impatient, having already waited over an hour.

His phone buzzed with another text message, a quick glance confirmed it was just Plagg. Adrien ignored it, assuming his partner just wanted to remind him how stupid he was acting.

Which Plagg was right. He was acting really stupid. Adrien didn’t want to admit it.

It’s not like Marinette was the first girl he ever tried to woo. Adrien was pushing thirty and had several notches on his belt; it came with being a fashion model, and the face of Gabriel fashion industries. Women practically threw themselves at him. But this was his first time romancing a woman while in the mask. It was risky, and stupid, and everything Plagg scolded him about on a near daily basis. It was also one hell of a challenge.

A flash of copper hair caught his attention and Adrien fixed his stare on the tall professor stepping out of the university.

Nathaniel Kurtzberg. Plagg had to do some digging to find out information on this guy. Apparently, he kept a low profile and it had taken a considerable amount of effort to track him down. Especially since they only had a first name to work from.

He stepped out of his car and made to approach the man. Then sucked in a breath and tried to channel every ounce of menacing and intimidating that coursed through his blood. Adrien had to adjust his steps when he realized he’d fallen into a model’s strut, which was his go-to for confident walks, but was nowhere near intimidating and more sultry if anything else. Not what he was going for. He tried to stomp his feet more and make his steps deliberate to compensate.

Nathaniel saw him well before the blonde reached him, and stopped at the edge of the parking lot to give him a curious look.

Adrien pierced his face with the hardest look he could muster and stalked right up to the professor. He stopped just a few feet from Nathaniel and looked up, and up, and for the first time realized this man was taller than he was. Adrien steeled himself, not really certain how these sorts of confrontations were supposed to go because he didn’t do this kind of thing. He dug around in his vast knowledge of cinema and graphic novels for aid and attempted to come up with something.

Back off, she’s mine. Nope too possessive and incredibly cliché.

I saw her first. Not true according to Nathaniel’s history, also too juvenile.

Stay away from her or I’ll beat the hell out of you. Adrien doubted he could follow through with that threat even if he managed to make it sound convincing.

He noted the way Nathaniel squirmed in discomfort, looking about ready to bolt, and Adrien realized he’d been fixing the man with a death glare this entire time without saying a word. He must’ve looked like a crazy person, a very sharply dressed one with coiffed hair.

“What’s your interest in her?” He’d been so ready to start off with a threat that his question spilled out like an interrogation and caused Nathaniel to stumble back a bit.

“W-who?”

“Miss Dupain-Cheng. Are you seeing her?” It wasn’t the direction Adrien intended to take but now that he started he decided to roll with it. He took another step towards the university professor and set his jaw.

“I’m not seeing Marinette!” Nathaniel defended quickly still looking very uncomfortable.

“Bullshit!” Adrien snarled. “You were out with her on Friday!” Nathaniel visibly cowered from his outburst and it made the blonde feel like total scum. This man wasn’t a threat; he was confused and scared, and kinda pathetic. He back pedaled before he even realized it. “I mean, you were with her on Friday and I just assumed you two were… You aren’t seeing her?” His last question sounded more like a strangled plea. All the jealousy and anger he’d worked so hard to build and feed from sort of fizzled out like a candle in the rain. Hope rushed to fill the void left by the absence of the dowsed negative emotions.

I suck at this, he criticized himself. Scale rooftops, break into secured buildings and make a nuisance of himself, no sweat. Conduct himself in a sane way around real people in a non-professional setting, a setting that wasn’t fake as hell and contrived for the sake of money, mission impossible.  

“I swear I’m not seeing Marinette,” asserted Nathaniel. “We’re old friends.”

Those words caused Adrien to slump visibly, every muscle in his body relaxing from their tense state. Great, now I feel like a dick. He eased back when he realized he was standing a bit too close to Nathaniel than was acceptably comfortable.

The setting sun hit the hazel trees around them; long shadows stretched across the lot making Adrien feel a little more at home. Every so often a professor would pass them by and shoot curious looks in their direction.

“I think I owe you an apology,” started Adrien and ran his shoe over the rough surface of the concrete. “I-I’m not usually like this.” Why the hell am I like this? He tried to remind himself that in two months he would be in Barcelona and nothing in Paris would matter anymore. Nothing. It was the reason Plagg kept saying he was stupid. It was also the reason Plagg kept scolding him for stalking the curator. Telling him he would get attached; that this was becoming more than just a game.

Adrien couldn’t afford for this to become more than a game.

This whole thing has been nothing but an impulsive mess.

“I used to be in love with her too.”

Adrien snapped out of his self-criticism and stared at Nathaniel.

The professor fidgeted nervously from his blurted confession but pressed forth anyway. “I had the biggest crush on her back in high school.”

“What happened?” Adrien settled himself against someone’s car, curiosity overpowering any traces of reason. He hoped to God that Nathaniel didn’t notice the fluidity of his movements, and that the car alarm should have gone off had any normal person rested against it.

“I was a big coward, and she was way out of my league. No matter how I tried to get her to notice me she seemed to dance away just out of reach.”

Adrien smirked and had to stifle a chuckle. Not because he found Nathaniel’s predicament amusing but because it was so like his own. Every time he took a step, Marinette took two steps back.  

Nathaniel scowled, taking Adrien’s reaction the wrong way.

“I’m not laughing at you. Just myself,” amended the blonde. “I’m having a similar problem actually.”

Nathaniel’s expression dissolved into a look of empathy. “She won’t notice you either? Somehow I find that hard to believe.” His eyes raked over Adrien’s appearance with disbelief, a hint of jealousy, and he cocked his head to the side.

Adrien frowned under an arched brow, feeling a little irritated that he was being pegged for his looks.  “What? Because I’m a model? That hasn’t impressed her much.”

“I guess it wouldn’t.” Nathaniel tried to look apologetic, but Adrien doubted the sincerity. “I just figured you would have had better luck than me.”

“She won’t even stick around to talk to me. It’s like I scare her or something.” He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his pants hard enough to jam his pinky and had to suppress a pained wince. A quick inspection of his right hand had him mentally cursing himself. He couldn’t bend the finger without feeling pain, which meant it was going to swell. Plagg was going to chew him out. “You don’t seem to have the same problem.”

“Maybe she finds you intimidating? How do you know each other anyway?”

A hundred memories flickered through Adrien’s head like some confused black and white movie.

She almost tackled me outside her museum, and I thought she was strange and felt sorry for her when she stared at me for five minutes and bolted like I bit her.

She scared the shit out of me when I broke into said museum and she seemed to know exactly where I was at, and nearly caught me.

She hit me with a rock. When I awoke I was restrained to a cabinet in a knot even I couldn’t get out of.

Then she let me go.

I tried to talk to her without my mask, and she ran off on me. So, I put on my mask and chased after her like some sort of depraved moron.

I kissed her and only stole her choker charm as an excuse for why I did it.

I walked her home in a rain storm because I couldn’t convince myself to stay the hell away from her.

I thought I’d finally gotten my shit together and was prepared to leave her alone, but then she went and left me a thermos of coffee, and my resolve crumbled like a wall made of sand.

“I see her at the museum,” Adrien explained then picked his brain for an explanation as to what someone like him would be doing hanging around a museum that often. Chloe was like him, she was sort of a friend. What did she do with museums? “I was thinking about sponsoring it.” Damn, hell, damn! Damn it all to hell. It sounded like a perfectly legit reason until he said it out loud and realized his mistake.

Of course, Nathaniel looked impressed.

Adrien just died a little inside.

Plagg was really going to murder him now. To avoid suspicion he was going to have to sponsor the very same museum he intended to rob. It’s not that he couldn’t afford it, but the irony was like a knife stabbing him through the gut.

The sun sank behind the university building and the parking area got a lot darker, muting the blonde and copper tones of both men’s hair. Several more professors passed them by, also giving Nathaniel and Adrien inquisitive looks. A couple of students even passed by and let out excited squeals at the sight of a model on campus. This was attention Adrien had long since learned to tune out, but given Nathaniel’s rigid posture it was clearly something new for him.

“Do you think she’ll like it?” Adrien hedged and adjusted his position against the car.

Nathaniel jumped, tearing his attention away from the squealing students and pinning it back on the blonde man. His stare was dark, made darker by the fringe of hair covering half of his face. “Wait, are you sponsoring because you want to, or because you’re trying to impress Marinette?”

“…Both?” Adrien adopted a sheepish expression. Most women liked money, and gifts, and extravagant gestures. Except he’d already tried that with Marinette, leaving all kinds of gifts in her office, and she had yet to warm up to him. It was his usual solution to throw more money at the problem.

Nathaniel buried his face in his left hand and clutched his laptop bag with the other. “You need help,” he groaned.

“You know what, I’ll just figure it out.” Adrien barked, starting to feel like an even bigger idiot than Plagg already swore he was. He pulled away from the car, making certain not to jar it at all, and turned on his heel ready to march back to his Jaguar.

A thin bony hand came down on his shoulder and halted him mid step.

“I’ll help you.”

“What?” He jerked his head around just as the red-head pulled his hand away.

“I’ll help you with Marinette,” Nathaniel clarified.

Adrien eyed him up and down with suspicion. “…why?” he finally asked.

“Because you need it, and I feel sorry for you. If all else fails, you can join me in the friend zone. We have cookies,” he added the last part with a dry laugh.

Despite just being told he was pitied, Adrien couldn’t help but crack a bit of a smile. He shoved his hand out to the professor and said, “Adrien Agreste, though I should have introduced myself sooner.”

“I know who you are,” sassed Nathaniel. “And you were a little busy trying to be the bigger dick, so I’ll let your lack of etiquette slide.” He grabbed Adrien’s hand and shook it giving him a wry smile in return. “Nathaniel Kurtzberg, but I assume you already knew.”

When Adrien pulled his hand back he scratched the back of his head in embarrassment.

Nathaniel hesitated, his eyes making a pass over the darkened lot before coming back to Adrien. “Do you like video game music?” He looked like he expected the blonde to scoff and say no.

“Yeah.”

The red-head couldn’t have looked more surprised. “There’s a pub near my place and they have a band playing tonight. They play a lot of covers for popular video games. I figure we could have a few drinks and discuss exactly what you’re doing wrong with Marinette.” The invitation was forced and Nathaniel looked just as awkward as he sounded. Adrien could tell he wasn’t the social type and was struggling just to spit it out.

“Should I be concerned that my advice is coming from someone who already failed with her?”

Nathaniel threw his hands up in mock offense. “Take it or leave it.”

“Fine, fine,” Adrien yielded. “You lead the way, and I’ll follow.”

“Speaking of,” cut the red-head. “Is that your jaguar over there?” He nodded in the direction of the black F-type.

“Yeah. Why?”

Nathaniel only whistled and turned away. His feet made scraping sounds against the concrete and Adrien noted that he didn’t pick up his feet. He watched the professor shake his head and pick his way through the parking lot towards a much humbler vehicle.

0000

Marinette’s POV

The weekend passed without any sign of the pesky cat burglar. When Monday came and went and she still hadn’t seen evidence of him in the museum, Marinette started to get suspicious.

Either their new security was doing its job and keeping him out, or Chat Noir was up to something. She refused to believe he decided to leave her and her museum alone, and part of her doubted that the security had anything to do with his absence.

Which meant Chat was up to something.

Chloe had her interview on Tuesday night. The interview she insisted upon to make amends for Marinette’s behavior at her party weeks prior. Alya conducted the whole thing in the lobby of Le Grande Paris Hotel, and Chloe did ninety percent of the talking, which left Marinette rather bored and feeling unnecessary. But she put up with it for the sake of her job, Tikki was counting on her.

Normally she never dealt with the sponsors. As director and owner of the museum, Tikki usually dealt with them, and it was Marinette’s job to organize and run the exhibits. But Tikki was training her, which meant easing her into the responsibilities of a director. Of all the sponsors Marinette could’ve been eased into, she had to question why her boss started with Chloe.

Fortunately, the night concluded with a pleased and flattered Miss Bourgeois. Alya wasn’t too pissed about being coerced into the interview, and Marinette hadn’t been smothered to death by their sponsor’s massive ego. It was a win-win-win.

So, when Marinette retrieved her yellow Fiat Panda from the valet at the hotel she was in an unusually good mood. She pulled away from the hotel and started for home, slipping her phone out to shoot a voice text to her assistant and break the good news.

It was already late, sections of Paris alive and lit up because they never slept, while other parts were dark and closed for the night. Without thinking about it she turned off a busier street and into a quieter set. It wasn’t her usual route home, and Marinette couldn’t pin point what prompted her to take the road in the first place. Several darkened restaurants stood off to her right, and a closed shopping strip took up the left. There were a few cars parked here and there along the street but the area was deserted of people.

A feeling akin to an icy-hot patch crawled along the back of her spine, and pooled in the base of her skull, and then she knew.

Marinette slammed her brakes so hard her seat-belt locked up and choked her. It took her seconds to pick out a suspicious black car parked outside one of the local shops. It was the only car in the whole area that was as ostentatious as he was. Black, convertible, two-seater, and it was a Jaguar, because of course it was.

At least it fit with the rest of his modus operandi.

The windows on the Jaguar were tinted so she couldn’t tell if anyone was in the car or not. She assumed he must be, because why else would she feel his presence. Marinette eased her Panda a little closer, as if the little yellow hybrid could to sneak up on the expensive sports car. She was about to hit the brakes again when the Jaguar suddenly roared to life and peeled away from the curb like a demon.

Tires squealed and jerked against the dated cobblestone street, then the black car shot off like an arrow.

Marinette slammed her foot against the gas pedal on her Panda and with a much less spectacular roar, that was more akin to a grumble, it gave chase. Her Panda was the Cross model, powerful for a city car, but still just a city car. It struggled to keep up with the Jaguar in front of her, and that was made even more difficult when it weaved through bits of traffic and took sharp corners.

Determined Marinette followed suit, weaving her own car through the traffic and skidding around corners after him. The jaguar screeched around a roundabout before cutting over a curb and darting into an alley. She blessed her all-wheel drive and took the roundabout a little rougher, crunching painfully over the curb. The yellow panda tore into the alley with grace akin to the animal it was named after, and she caught sight of the Jaguar taking a left onto a more open road.

The chase continued over a bridge, through a deserted parking garage, and into and office district before Marinette realized the Jaguar was toying with her. Several times she almost caught up with it, only for the sports car to pull away with superior speed and handling. The driver was obviously dancing just out of her reach, making a game of it just to tease her.

She followed the Jaguar through another alley and watched it get hung up at the red light of an intersection. The blinker indicated it was going left so Marinette took this opportunity to zoom down a different alley and attempt to cut him off on the next street.

She bumped around for a bit, mowed over a garbage can and took a sharp turn that was a little too tight for comfort. The Panda rolled out of the alley just in time to cut in front of the Jaguar, and the black sports car keened like a feline, stopping just inches from hitting her.

She had to catch her breath, and make sure her heart hadn’t stopped. Marinette’s chest ached from the seat belt digging into her chest, and her hands were shaking from the nearly avoided collision. The driver in the Jaguar didn’t seem to be nearly as affected, the car roared into reverse and back off before jerking back into drive and taking over a curb to get around her.

Marinette released a frustrated growl and attempted to give chase once more, but the adrenaline was starting to get to her and the thrill had died a little after that close call. She lost the Jaguar after a couple more streets and didn’t catch sight of it again.

She eased the Panda to a stop outside of a postal office and drew in a shuddering breath.

That was Chat Noir. I know it was him.

For the life of her she couldn’t explain why she decided to chase after him. It was impulsive and insane, and crazy… and fun. Marinette pondered why he was sitting in that shopping district, and if she intruded upon some illicit activity he’d been up to. It must not have been too important if he felt the need to indulge a car chase with her around a quarter of Paris.

Her forehead touched down against the steering wheel, the cool material restoring a bit of clarity to her mind. One controlled breath after another brought relief to her nerves, trying to come down from the adrenaline high before starting back home. Her eyes were shut and she was so focused on calming down that she mistook the heated feeling on the back of her neck as part of her high.

Rrrrvvvvvrruuuuuuummmmbbbbb!

The roar of an engine revving behind her caused Marinette to scream and shoot upright in her seat. She snapped her head back just in time to see the black Jaguar flash its headlights at her before pulling around her Panda and shooting off down the street, disappearing around a corner for good this time.

When she recovered from the sudden fright she felt a surge of anger and frustration.

“Go to hell you nasty cat!” The screamed insult was for her benefit only, as no one was around to hear it. Then she buried her face against the steering wheel and began laughing despite herself.

Marinette laughed until her throat hurt and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. She laughed until the shock of being startled wore off. When the car finally fell into silence she just stared into her lap and tried to deny the intrusive feelings that began to take root in her chest.

“He’s a thief, Mari,” she reminded herself. “He intends to rob your museum.”

She had to repeat it to herself three more times on her way home.

Chapter Text

Adrien's POV

The wheels of a sleek black Jaguar F-Type keened against the dated cobblestone street; the car skidding to a halt next to an old Volkswagen. It was in front of the same little shopping strip from before. The strip Adrien had been parked outside of, waiting for his partner, when Marinette had discovered him. He'd instigated a chase to lead her away. For safety, he told himself.

She'd driven up behind him while he wasn't in the suit. If it weren't for the tinted windows he would've been screwed, she would've seen and put two and two together. Marinette wasn't stupid, she wouldn't consider it a coincidence that she felt Chat and found Adrien Agreste instead.

The driver of the rusted grey Volkswagen jumped with a start and stepped from the car looking as livid as he was small, barely controlled ire replaced the usual amusement in the depths of his eyes. The engine on the Jaguar cut out, and the sharply dressed blonde with coiffed hair stepped out, shooting the little, tanned Spanish man a faux innocent grin.

"Did you have fun?" shot the small man in a condescending tone.

"Oh yes," breathed Adrien. He settled back against his car with a wistful sigh and a different sort of smile. One that Plagg would call dopey, and that's exactly what he told Adrien just then. "You should have seen it Plagg, she was persistent in that little Fiat of hers. She was actually chasing me for once."

The small man groaned and rolled his eyes. "Oh, I saw it. I saw you and her flirting up a storm, up and down the streets of Paris. I'm surprised neither of you got caught for reckless driving."

Adrien cocked his head at his cohort and adopted a bemused expression. "We drove right past you?"

"The fact that you didn't notice just shows how much that woman compromises your perception." The dry quality in Plagg's tone could've robbed the moisture from a lake.

"Relax, buddy. I'm just having fun until we pull off the heist." Adrien shook his head and patted the side of his car the way a jockey would pat a horse. "I'm killing time," he insisted but it sounded insincere even to his own ears.

Plagg curled his lip and gave a sharp shake of his head. "Who are you trying to convince? Me or you? Don't answer that! I already know the answer," he finished with a growl.

The way the little Spanish man stomped around made Adrien want to chuckle, but he bit it back and forced a straight face. Now wasn't the time for levity. "What was so important that we had to meet tonight?" Night was the usual time he met with Plagg. His day job kept him tied up from dawn till late afternoon, on most days, and nothing sensitive could be discussed over phone or text. Too risky.

"Well I tried to arrange and tell you last night, but you ignored all my calls. What were you up to anyway?"

Adrien shifted against the side of his car and cast a look off to the side, "I was having drinks with the professor."

That caused Plagg to draw back with a look of disbelief. "Wait, you went off to confront this guy, and ended up having drinks with him?"

"Turns out we have a lot in common." The blonde shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal.

"Liking trying to fuck the same woman?"

Adrien snapped his head in Plagg's direction and his green eyes became severe. He couldn't pinpoint what pissed him off about his partner's words, but anger seethed beneath his skin all the same. "Nathaniel isn't interested in her. Not like that."

Plagg's eyes studied Adrien's expression; he seemed to realize he'd struck a nerve because he backed off and changed the subject. "I called you here because the Bastet statue was being put out yesterday. It is still pertinent to your interests, yeah? You could slip in tonight or tomorrow and make off with it before the exhibit even opens."

"Actually, I can't."

It was Plagg's turn to adopt a severe expression. "Why the hell not? We could be in Barcelona by next week! If this is about that woman, so help me God, Adrien!" He didn't finish the threat and just shook his tiny fist at the cat burglar.

Adrien threw up his hands in defense and had the decency to look intimidated. "It's got nothing to do with Marinette. I hurt my hand yesterday, so it'll be a few days before I can pull it off."

"Hurt your hand how? Let me see." Plagg snatched Adrien's extended hand and fished a flashlight from his pocket. He shined the light across the palm of his hand first before inspecting each digit and stopped at the pinky. "What did you do to it?"

"I may have jammed it while being a bit careless." Adrien suppressed a wince and a hiss of pain when Plagg tried bending the swollen finger. "I need them to climb; it's too risky if I try right now."

Plagg dropped his hand and muttered a low string of profanities. "This is a weak excuse," he snipped, pinning Adrien with another hard look. "Don't think I'm not on to you." He jabbed a sharp stubby finger into the model's chest, twice. "You've bought yourself a few more days to play your games. Don't screw this up."

"Plagg we have, at most, two months before we have to be in Barcelona. So relax, enjoy being home while it lasts."

"Home is exactly why we shouldn't linger here!" snarled his partner. "What are you going to do when your father catches up to you? What happens when he finds out you're working his turf?"

Adrien shrugged looking very nonplussed about the situation. "He's not stupid enough to harm the face of his company. I'll be fine."

Plagg didn't look like he believed that for a second. "He's already framed you once, Adrien. You know it was a warning to clear the hell out."

"That reminds me…" a wicked grin etched its way along the model's face. "I want that ring he stole. See if you can dig up any information on its whereabouts." With that Adrien pulled open the door of his car and sank behind the wheel. He closed the door on the string of complaints that spilled from Plagg's mouth in response to his request.

0000

Marinette's POV

The last thing Marinette expected to see when she walked into Tikki's office on Thursday morning was Alya's fiancé.

Nino Lahiffe came from Morroco with his family back when Marinette and Alya attended university. The man was several years older than Alya but she developed a thing for him when they met during a blackout at a media building. Alya was there for an internship and she happened to get trapped in a room with Nino. After that, romance ensued.

The last Marinette heard from Alya, Nino Lahiffe was on some music tour in England. Now he was standing in Tikki's office dressed in a suit and tie, there was another older man standing next to him, also wearing a suit and tie. Marinette always assumed Nino's job was music related because that's all Alya ever mentioned of his work. The sight before her now made her question exactly how much she knew about her friend's fiancé.

Tikki greeted her with a look of apprehension and introduced the two men. "Marinette this is Agent Haprele from the PP and Agent Lahiffe from Interpol. Gentlemen, this is my curator, Miss Marinette Dupain-Cheng."

Agent Haprele looked pleased and held out his hand in greeting. Marinette took it and gave a polite shake. Agent Lahiffe was not so thrilled, he didn't offer his hand and only looked embarrassed.

"I'm familiar with Agent Lahiffe," said Marinette pointedly. She gave him a look that implied there would be a talk later involving him and his fiancé.

Agent Haprele took up the conversational baton and addressed Marinette, "we are here for a follow-up investigation regarding your museum."

Marinette darted her eyes between Tikki and the agents and back again. She could feel her heart begin to race, and the blood rush in her ears. They couldn't be here because of Chat Noir, there wasn't any video surveillance of him, the cameras were knocked out that night. She couldn't recall if any other evidence had surfaced placing Chat in the museum that night. Marinette was sure she hadn't mentioned him to anyone aside from her parents, and even that was heavily edited. Despite that she couldn't think of any other reason why two agents would be in the director's office right now.

"I don't understand, weren't the thieves caught and charged?"

"Yes," explained Agent Haprele. Nino was staying strangely quiet and it was making Marinette extremely unnerved. "We're here because we have reason to believe the thief, Chat Noir, is in Paris and targeting this museum."

Oh hell. A cold sweat broke out along the back of Marinette's neck and she had to force a painful swallow before she choked. "Are you sure?" She hoped her voice didn't sound nearly as strained to them as it did to her.

"It's Chat Noir's M.O. to lift feline themed objects. We believe he's after this."

Agent Haprele placed an open file in Marinette's shaking hands. She forced herself to look down, and saw a picture of the Bastet statue from her exhibit. Bastet was an Egyptian cat God. It was a piece she and Juleka had put out at the beginning of the week. So far the piece had remained untouched.

"Have you noticed anything strange around the museum? Anything that could help us in our investigation?"

Aside from a man in a black leather cat suit flirting shamelessly with me and following me home? Aside from the myriad of gifts left in my office? Aside from the strange feeling I get whenever he's around? And not the feeling that makes me feel dirty, but the one that gives away his presence and makes it impossible for him to hide from me.

"I mentioned seeing some strange shadows to one of the night guards awhile back. But that was before the recent break in. They assured me they would check the cameras for anything strange."

Haprele nodded and Nino continued to remain stoic.

"You haven't noticed any suspicious individuals around the museum, or inside during hours, have you?" Haprele was scratching notes into a little pad of paper, not even looking at Marinette.

"About a week ago I saw some patrons loitering around taking photographs. It was a little suspicious that they were by themselves, but nothing illegal."

"Can you describe any of them?" The agent cast a glance at her over his notepad.

Marinette shook her head, "I'm afraid none of them were very memorable. I can't recall any specifics, just that there were several, both men and women. I'm really sorry."

"That's quite alright, assured Agent Haprele. "I'll give you our card. If anything comes up, that could further our investigation, please do not hesitate to contact us."

He placed a business card in her hand and it was everything Marinette could do to keep her hand from shaking as she accepted it. "I won't," she lied. "I hope you catch him."

The two agents bid both women farewell and left the office. Nino looked apologetic as he passed Marinette and she wondered why. It could've been that he felt bad for hiding his profession from her, but the paranoid part of her mind wondered if maybe he knew she was hiding something.

When the agents were gone Marinette released a hard breath through her nose and chanced a look at her boss. Tikki looked worried.

"I really hope my museum isn't being targeted again," she said. "And if it is, I hope they catch Chat Noir before he can rob it."

"Me too." Rasped the curator, and guilt weighed so heavily in her stomach that she felt like she was going to vomit.

Tikki dismissed her, and Marinette staggered out of the office and down the hall. She carved a path to the restrooms, throwing open the door and trapped herself in one of the stalls. It was ten minutes before the urge to vomit subsided. It was twenty before the urge to cry finally left her.

I've just lied to the police. Why did I lie to the police?

She buried her face into her hands and collapsed against the wall of the stall.

What the hell are you doing, Mari?

0000

It wasn't until after lunch on that same day that Marinette finally got a hold of herself. She convinced herself that the only time she helped Chat Noir was when he'd saved her life. All other interactions after that were instigated by him, and she made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him. She was trying her best to secure the museum; above all else her loyalties lay with her job.

You know Chat Noir is stalking you, for whatever reason. You could work with the police to set him up and catch him.

You could act as bait.

But would he fall for it?

…Could she live with it? Marinette owed the cat burglar nothing, and he made it quite clear that he intended to rob the museum regardless of how she felt. If she couldn't keep him out of the museum, then the next best course of action was to aid in his arrest. The idea awwas definitely worth some more consideration.

Max was in her office when she returned from a late lunch with Juleka. Marinette noted the usual programmers were absent, which either meant they were on break, or Max dismissed them. Either way, she shut her office door expecting this to be a private discussion.

"Is everything alright?" It was unusual for Max to hang around in her office, so his presence meant something was up.

"Do you know what's up with Lila?" Max sounded depressed.

It suddenly dawned on Marinette that her friend wasn't looking as sharp as he had weeks ago. His appearance was sloppy, he had a layer of stubble along his squared jaw, he probably hadn't shaved in a few days, and his hair was a mess. By messy she meant that it was pulled back in a short pony tail, but he hadn't bothered to comb it nice, and locks of stray wiry hair had fallen loose.

It sort of reminded her of the days when he would work long hours and even work through the night.

"I was going to ask you the same thing," she said. "I thought things were improving between Lila and I but she started avoiding me again recently."

Max let slip a pained expression when he sat down in Marinette's chair. His shoulders slumped and he just stared at the floor looking dejected.

"I don't understand. I thought things were going well between you two." She started, attempting to make sense of the situation. "You went out with her; she even came to my office to tell me about it. Which was weird as hell."

The programmer jerked his head up and stared at her. "What did you say to her?"

Marinette attempted to recall the conversation, but the only part that stayed with her was when she told Lila not to toy with Max.

"I told her not to toy with you," she said hesitantly.

Max appeared to consider that for several minutes. He didn't look pleased that his boss was looking out for him, but he didn't look upset by it either. "Your concern for my feelings is flattering, Mari," he stated. "Though that doesn't explain why Lila won't return any of my calls, and why she's avoiding me."

Marinette chose not to voice her opinion on the subject. She deduced that Lila might have taken her words to heart and was avoiding Max because she had intended to toy with him. But saying so would not make Max feel better.

"How many dates did you have before she started acting… like herself again?"

Max looked down at the floor again, picking the office carpeting apart with his eyes. "Three, and by the third I thought things were really going somewhere."

The urge to pry Max for details was eating Marinette from the inside out. She had to remind herself that even if she did ask, it was doubtful Max would tell her anything, and he wouldn't appreciate her being so nosy. Nosy was what Alya was notorious for, not Marinette.

When Max was younger he used to be all numbers, and no filter. Spouting information and critical analysis without regarding the feelings of anyone else. Some days she was thankful he'd matured away from that and learned to apply a filter, but other days she missed the blatant and obtuse Max.

"Do you want me to try and talk to her?" Hedged Marinette. Part of her hoped he would say no because talking to Lila was less appealing than the smell of Felix's cheese.

"I know you two don't get along." Max replied.

That was a bit of an understatement.

"I'll try to talk to her," asserted the curator, "but I'm not going to push the issue if she doesn't want to talk."

"Thank you." He said in a low voice.

She followed Max out of her office and noted that Felix was waiting outside. The little, tanned man looked up and shot them both a tentative smile. Marinette returned it, but Max did not. She watched her friend mope off to his own office, and Felix darted inside of hers as soon as it was vacated. Marinette was looking forward to the opening of her exhibit, because it meant her office would once again be hers, and she wouldn't have to share it with a couple of messy tech guys.

She made her way to the front desk and pondered about Nino along the way. While out to lunch with Juleka it occurred to her that Nino had been in England, which was the last location of the Egyptian exhibit before it got moved to her museum in France. Now that she was aware of Nino's actual occupation it became too much of a coincidence that he was in England the same time the exhibit was.

She wondered if Chat Noir had been in England too. Had he attempted to lift the Bastet statue once before and failed? Had he missed his chances, and followed the exhibit to Paris?

Marinette wanted to ask him the next time she crossed paths with the cat burglar, because she was sure she hadn't seen the last of him. But she knew her own musings were going to be the best answer she would get. Chat always made a point to evade all her questions.

As if her thoughts summoned him, that strange feeling began prickling the base of her spine and crawling up her back. It was icy, and burned like fire at the same time but felt more like his claws dragging over each individual vertebrae rather than ants like it had been before.

It was broad daylight, in a public place, crowded with people; there was no way Chat Noir would be stupid enough to sneak around the museum right then. This meant he wasn't sneaking; he was someone in the crowd.

Marinette dragged her eyes over every face in the lobby, scrutinizing every blonde man, any man who could possibly share any sort of similarity to Chat Noir. She knew he wore contacts, so his eye color could be anything. There was also the possibility that he wore a wig… She heaved a sigh and began scrutinizing all the non-blondes as well. Dissecting every face for any tell-tale detail.

"Good afternoon, Miss Dupain-Cheng."

A sickeningly familiar masculine voice nearly caused Marinette to crawl out of her own skin. She whirled around in her spot and came face to face with Adrien Agreste. Something niggled in the back of her mind and she looked him up and down not for the first time. Only this time she was suspicious.

Could he be…?

Adrien smiled at her with that charming perfect smile, and his blonde hair was styled off to the side as it usually was. He was dressed in a short-sleeved white button down, over a chocolate brown designer shirt. His dark grey slacks were tailored to fit and hugged legs that were attractively toned. Too toned…

But he's a model. He's supposed to be toned.

The man in front of her cleared his throat and Marinette realized she'd been glowering at him the whole time.

"H-hello, Mr. Agreste!" She practically coughed the greeting at him. Marinette tore her eyes away from his body and pinned them back on his face. God, he's handsome. She had to redirect her thoughts before they went somewhere they shouldn't. Her mind wandered back to the other times she'd encountered this man, and she couldn't recall feeling anything around him.

It can't be him. I never felt a thing when I talked to him at Chloe's party, but I felt Chat Noir later on my way home.

It didn't make any sense to her. The puzzle pieces just didn't fit.

Adrien waved a hand in front of her face, looking perplexed, and Marinette realized he'd been speaking to her this entire time and she had tuned it out.

"I am so sorry, Mr. Agreste!" She floundered. "Can you please repeat that?"

An awkward smile crawled along his face and he tilted his head in a way that was almost adorable. "I was wondering to whom I should speak with about sponsoring the museum," he explained, surprisingly patient given how rude the curator was being. "That wouldn't happen to be you, would it?"

That settled it, he couldn't possibly be Chat Noir. What sort of thief would dump money into a museum he planned to rob?

"I'm afraid not," Marinette breathed. Part of her was relieved to conclude this wasn't Chat, but that feeling was still dragging up and down her back. Not in an annoying way unless she focused on it. It seemed to have subsided to a subtle sensation. "I can take you to the director and she'd be happy to help you set up a sponsorship."

"Oh," Adrien sounded disappointed.

Marinette raised a brow, bemused by his reaction. Tikki chose that moment to stroll through the lobby and save Marinette from any further interactions with Adrien. It was fortunate because the curator was certain she was offending the man. If left in her hands, she swore she'd end up chasing the potential sponsor off rather than gaining his favor.

"Tikki!"

The squat red-headed woman reacted to the sound of her name and made to approach the curator and the blonde man next to her.

When the director came within speaking distance Marinette hastily introduced them. "Mr. Agreste, this is Ms. Tikki Felicitas, the director of the Belleville." She turned and gave Tikki a pleading expression, willing the director to rescue her. "Tikki, Mr. Agreste is curious about museum sponsorship."

The director's deep blue eyes lit up at the word sponsorship. It was as if a switch flicked behind them and suddenly the director was oozing the schmooze. "Why, Mr. Agreste, I'd be delighted to answer any questions you might have. Do you mind coming to my office? We can discuss the details there."

Adrien's eyes flickered back and forth between Marinette and Tikki, and he looked almost… frustrated. But it lasted a second before his expression smoothed out, and a practiced smile took its place. He shot the curator one more stare that looked more heated than cordial, and it caused an involuntary shiver to curl down Marinette's back. Then the blonde directed his full attention to the director, willingly following her through the lobby and into the office wing.

Crisis averted. Like and archer easing down a drawn bow, the tension left her body.

She was about to continue her search for Chat Noir when Juleka strolled up to her. Her assistant was curious about the presence of Adrien Agreste in their museum, and the two women ended up gossiping about the face of Gabriel Fashion Industries on their way to the west wing.

0000

Adrien's POV

He wondered how he was going to tell Plagg about the museum sponsorship. Would his partner skin him with a filleting knife? Would he see the silver lining and appreciate the cover it provided?

It was Friday evening and Adrien was sitting at a table outside a quaint little cafe when Nathaniel showed up and dropped his bag over the other chair. The professor spared the model a look of concern before joining him at the table. The light from stylish electric lamp posts cast a warm glow around the pavilion, but it did little penetrate the dark mood hovering over Adrien.

"How did sponsoring the museum go?" He asked, but there was a level of amusement in his tone as if he already knew the answer.

"I'm now a sponsor," replied Adrien, his tone a stark contrast to Nathaniel's.

"I'll just assume it didn't improve your situation with Marinette."

Adrien could only nod in agreement, and avoid looking at the professor and seeing his "I told you so," expression.

"Did you try my idea and invite her out for lunch?"

"There wasn't an opening for that. She passed me off to the director before I could say more than four sentences."

Nathaniel had the decency to express sympathy over Adrien's plight despite finding the whole predicament amusing. "Try complementing her clothing next time. Marinette is a seamstress, she makes a lot of her own clothes. If anything is going to drag out the conversationalist, it'll be that."

"Wouldn't it sound pandering coming from me?"

The professor shook his head causing his copper bangs to sweep back and forth across his nose. "Not at all, as long as you are being sincere. Marinette will be flattered to hear compliments on her work from someone so distinguished in fashion."

It was worth a shot. After all, he'd complimented her red dress as Chat Noir and managed to make her blush as well as get close enough to steal a kiss. The memory of that kiss sent crackles of heat through the base of his skull. She should have slapped him, shoved him away, anything except melt into him. He could still feel the fluttering of her breath over his lips and along the skin of his jaw.

A sudden buzz in his pocket made Adrien pull his phone out. There was a text message from Plagg containing an address and a time. It was the message Adrien had been waiting all day for.

When he stopped in to sponsor the museum the day prior, it hadn't escaped his attention that some of his Father's men were staking out the museum. His Father needed to know that he couldn't just intimidate his son. Territory dispute or not, Adrien was determined to stand his ground. He wasn't going to let the Bastet statue slip through his fingers a second time.

The time on the text gave him just over an hour to change into his cat suit and drive to the given address.

"I know you just got here, Nathaniel, and I appreciate your willingness to help me, but I'm afraid I must leave." Adrien lurched up from his seat and fished out his keys. "I've received a reminder about an important meeting, and if I don't leave now I'm going to be late."

The copper-haired professor didn't look surprised that a famous model would have to take off at a moment's notice.

"I'll give your suggestion a shot this weekend, and tell you how it goes next week."

"Sure. Are you still stopping by the pub on Tuesday to hear the band?"

Adrien paused, and cast an interested look over his shoulder. "Are they playing again?"

Nathaniel nodded. "A Final Fantasy rock medley this time."

The shameless gamer in Adrien gave a silent internal shriek. He was thankful he had so much practice controlling his external emotions, it would have ruined his image if that shriek had been vocalized. "I'll be there," he assured, giving the other man half a wave before taking off towards a silver Aston Martin Virage.

Coaxing Marinette into a chase around Paris forced him to swap out his day car. He couldn't risk her stumbling upon the Jaguar again and seeing Adrien behind the wheel; not when she associated it with Chat Noir. The Virage was not his favorite, but it would have to do when he wasn't wearing the mask.

0000

The sound of claws scraping over tiles followed him down the slope of a roof until he hit the gutter, then he pushed off and vaulted over an alley and onto the side of a taller building. With the ease of a feline, Chat Noir pulled himself up one window sill after another, scaling the floors until he reached the top.

The neighborhood was questionable, quiet, isolated, abandoned even. The buildings were dated, and some of them in need of repair, sirens could be heard in the distance and the occasional hum of a passing car.

There were three men already on the roof when he crawled over the edge. They didn't even hear him until he was perched on the ledge under the shadow of a chimney, and they only heard him because he cleared his throat.

"Theo," started Chat, drawing the attention of the three men. "When did you get promoted from art smuggler?"

A thin lanky man separated himself from the other two, he had the look of a jaded artist but was clearly the one in charge.

"You know, I just couldn't believe it when I got word that Hawk Moth's son wanted to arrange a meeting tonight." The man sneered at Chat Noir. "I'm sorry your daddy couldn't make it, he's a busy man. I'm sure you understand."

Chat Noir smirked, and offered them a nonchalant shrug. "I never expected him to show. I'm not offended. From the moment I received the address I knew I'd be speaking with his peons." He straightened up from his crouched position and settled against the brick of the chimney. The chill of the rough surface barely penetrating the leather on his suit. "I want to know what business my father has with the Belleville Museum, aside from throwing a wrench in my plans."

"Right," huffed Theo. "It goes without saying your presence in Paris is intruding upon Hawk Moth's territory."

"Of course." Chat hummed, still amused. "I got the message when you framed me for the pawnbroker theft. Thanks for alerting Interpol to my whereabouts, by the way. It wouldn't be a challenge without them on my tail."

"Your Father is willing to throw an offer on the table. You can either work for him, and he'll call off his men, or get the hell out of Paris."

The chuckle that erupted from Chat's chest was laced with dark amusement. He had no intention of involving himself in his Father's crime syndicate, and Hawk Moth knew that.

"And what if I refuse?"

"We're certain you won't appreciate the consequences." Theo gestured to the two men flanking him, one pulled out a taser, while the other revealed a set of brass knuckles.

A wave of apprehension washed over Chat Noir, and he narrowed his eyes at the men. "Father would never compromise his company by harming the face of it. This is a bluff."

Theo didn't look affected by the cat burglar's words. "The options remain the same. Work for Hawk Moth, or we run you out."

"You can tell Father I politely decline. I'm staying, and I intend to collect that ring he had pilfered in my name."

The sinister smirk that pulled its way along Theo's face could have rivaled a devil. "He thought you might say that. In that case, Daddy insists you take a mandatory vacation." The glint of metal was the only warning Chat got before the peal of gunfire cut the night.

Chat reacted the moment he saw the light catch the gun. His legs pushed off the chimney and he threw himself over the side of the building, plummeting towards the neighboring rooftop. The bullet missed him by a hair, sinking into the brick.

His jump almost fell short, barely clearing the alley, and Chat's claws scrabbled to find purchase on the gutter of the shorter building. His boots kicked against the masonry, arms straining to pull himself up. The shouts of the men could be heard from the top of the building he'd leapt from. Another shot fired.

This time Chat felt it.

Searing pain ripped through his thigh, starting from the back before tearing its way to the front. His choked howl betrayed that he'd been hit.

Another shot, but this one missed.

Chat dug his good leg into the wall and forced himself onto the roof, claws digging careless gouges, but he didn't care. He rolled over the edge and forced himself to stand. The pain in his leg was nearly blinding, and he could feel the heat of blood running down along the inside of his suit.

He took off across the roof, half limping, half running just as another shot fired. Once again going wide. They weren't trying to kill him, just slow him down so they could catch him. He was sure of it, otherwise they wouldn't be missing this much. They must've been aiming for his arms and legs.

He weaved around a few more chimneys and across the roofs of several more buildings. The adrenaline in his bloodstream was the only thing that kept him going. Forcing his legs to run, to move and carry him despite the pain and trail of blood he was leaving behind.

His foot caught on a small chimney pipe and Chat Noir lost his balance, tumbling hard onto roofing tiles, cracking a few on impact. He tried to catch himself, but the slant of the roof sent him rolling down and over the edge. He braced himself for a several story fall, and a hard impact with the pavement of an alley.

Instead his head and shoulder connected painfully with a metal railing, the rest of his body slammed against a fire escape. The force knocked the wind out of him, and Chat moaned curling in on himself. When his vision came back to him, he eyed the gunshot wound in his thigh.

So much blood coated the outside of his suit, oozing over the leather, the inside was no doubt worse. Chat tried to force himself up, but his limbs refused to support his weight, and the pain in his leg was agonizing. His body having already decided this would be his stopping point.

He couldn't stay there; his Father's men would be searching for him if he didn't bleed out first. Chat knew the neighborhood he was in, but not the direction of his car, nor which alley this fire escape was in. Even if Plagg came to get him, he would never find him in time.

With a shaking hand he clicked the button on the side of his earpiece, opening the communication channel to his partner. Static filled his ear, before it cleared and an urgent hiss greeted him.

"Plagg, I need help." He pleaded, desperation leaking into his voice. Plagg's voice buzzed in his ear asking where he was. "I-I don't know," he answered. "I've been shot."

There was a loud string of profanity that was audible from the earpiece, and Chat had to cringe and gnash his teeth to keep from tearing it out of his ear.

His mind raced to find a way out of his predicament, coming up with nothing. There wasn't a single person who could find him in time. Except… but why would she help him? There were a myriad of reasons to dismiss his current train of thought, and yet his heart kept crawling back to it.

"Forward my c-call."

 

Chapter Text

Marinette’s POV

The chime of a phone ringing startled Marinette from her sleep just long enough to groggily squint at her cell screen before rejecting the call. There was no name to the caller, and it wasn't a number her sleep addled mind recognized.

Five seconds later her phone began ringing again.

She begrudgingly sat up and accepted the call, pressing the cell into her ear and snarling, “Hello?” in the politest way possible. Heavy ragged panting filled her ear, and a feeling of uneasiness washed over her. “…hello?” she tried again, with a little less venom.

“Princess…” a male voice rasped between breaths.

Marinette’s head shot up, posture becoming stiff upon recognizing that nickname and hearing the pleading quality in the way he spoke it.

Chat?”

“I need your h-help,” he began again. “I've been shot.” His voice dissolved into more ragged breathing.

“What?!” It felt like someone had just injected her bloodstream with ice water. She was jumping out of bed in an instant glancing around her room for something to wear besides her night gown and deciding on a pair of cotton sleeping pants. “Where are you?”

There was a sigh of relief from his end. “You’ll receive a text with an address.” She heard him suck in a pained breath and stifle a moan. “Don't enter the building. J-just drive to the neighborhood and f-find me.”

“Find you where?” Marinette cast her gaze around and snatched up a house coat, then dashed out to her living room and scooped her car keys from off the table. When she didn't receive an answer she tried again, “Chat, how will I find you?”

“Use your p-powers,” he whispered.

The line went dead after that.

She stopped only to slip on a pair of tennis shoes, and by the time she cleared her front door a text came in from another number she didn't recognize. Just like Chat Noir had said, it contained an address and nothing else. Marinette flew down the stairs of her complex, and out into the parking lot to her little Fiat Panda. She didn't even hesitate starting her car and peeling off through the streets of Paris en route to the given address.

Maybe if she had not been so sleep deprived she would have questioned why she was riding off to save a wanted criminal a quarter after eleven. She would have asked herself why she even cared if Chat was injured and dying someplace. Maybe she would have even called the police and sent them to the given address instead.

But in the moment all she could think about was him. The desperate tone in his voice. The pained breaths she heard, and the way he breathed his term of endearment for her like a plea. He'd asked her for help; the only conclusion she could conjure up to explain that made her heart break. Was Chat dying? Why call her of all people?


0000

She pulled the yellow Panda to a stop across the street from a large neglected building. The street was dark, and the neighborhood was as quiet as it was deserted. She doubled checked the address on her phone’s GPS and confirmed she was at the right place, but there wasn't a cat burglar in sight.

“Use your p-powers.”

He must have meant her ability to feel his presence, because that was the only thing that came to mind. She’d never tired to feel him before. It had always just happened.

Her eyes darted around the dark neighborhood, curious which direction to start in. She certainly didn't feel him now. The only feeling running through her body was the apprehension of being in such a desolate neighborhood, where a criminal had presumably been shot, and the fear that that particular criminal was now bleeding to death.

A quick glance at her phone yielded no new information. Marinette sighed and closed her eyes attempting to concentrate. “Feel him,” she murmured to herself. At first she had no idea what to focus on and strained her ears to hear sounds instead. Minutes passed and she still had no idea which direction to go. “Feel him,” she hissed with more fervor and memories of Chat flooded her mind. The feel of his hands, her body pressed up against his, his breath on her skin, the sensation of his lips ghosting over her own.

The tell-tale chill tickled down her neck like a sigh of relief. With the sensation came a faint urge, compelling her to head in a direction without explanation. Like a presence tugging insistently at the edge of her consciousness.

Marinette put the car in drive and followed the sensation. It felt like following a trail of will-o-the-wisp through a blinding haze. Every so often she would feel the burn of heat coarse down her neck, mingling with the chill, assuring her she was headed in the right direction. The feeling led her down a couple of streets and into a narrow alley with a rickety old fire escape barely clinging to the side of a building.

The feeling drew down her back like an urgent caress followed by a cascade of chills the moment her Panda rolled under the fire escape. Marinette brought her car to a stop to reassess the feeling and her eyes darted around the alley. He had to be close, she'd never felt him as strongly as she did then.

Blam!

A scream ripped from Marinette’s throat at the sound of something heavy impacting with her car and denting in the roof of her Panda. Her hands clawed at the steering wheel in a death grip as something black rolled off the roof and onto the pavement beside the car.

She unlocked her doors, ready to step out and confirm her suspicions that it was Chat Noir, but the moment the locks released the passenger door was pulled open. Chat reached a hand in and sunk his claws into the upholstery. Like a drowning feline he pulled his body into the car and crumpled, half on the seat, half curled into the floor board. Blood oozed off of him, staining her car, smearing over surfaces. It was everywhere. On his hands, his suit, some even smeared on the side of his face next to an ear piece, and dying locks of his hair crimson.

He buried his face against the seat and whimpered; a legitimate agonized whimper of pain, akin to a wounded animal. It felt like someone sank a knife straight into Marinette’s heart.

“Drive,” he commanded, voice taking on a level of urgency.

She hit the gas pedal, gunning it from the alley and setting a course out of the desolate neighborhood. “I need to take you to a hospital.” She racked her brain, attempting to recall where the closest one was.

“No!” Chat hissed, clutching the passenger seat harder. His teeth were clenched and his eyes were squeezed shut. “No hospitals. Please, just t-take me someplace safe. I can't go home. They know where I live.”

“Someplace safe?” she parroted.

“Please,” he moaned. Chat keened in pain when she took a corner a little too hard, the force jarring him.

Marinette slowed the car, and steadied her driving, determined to never hear that sound slip from his throat again.

“Is anyone following-?” His sentence was cut short with the gnashing of his teeth and a rush of sharp breaths.

In response to his question she checked all her mirrors and even craned her head around to check. “I think we’re good,” and her voice cracked when she said it. She continued to check behind her time and time again, just to be sure they weren't being followed. The paranoia was just too overwhelming.

Marinette arrived at her destination much sooner than she expected. She parked the Panda and turned to the cat burglar bleeding out on her passenger seat. He was still conscious, and panting, and his skin was the sickest pale she'd ever seen. He didn't seem to realize they’d come to a stop until she was out of the car and opening up his side.

“Where are we?” He looked up at her and his green eyes were glassy and lost.

She bent down, slipping the house coat from her shoulders and hooked her arm around him, pulling his over her shoulder. It was difficult pulling Chat from his folded position in the floor board. Chat tumbled from her car unceremoniously. He ended up sprawled on the ground and she used her house coat to tie a makeshift tourniquet just above the wound on his left thigh.

“Can you stand?”

He was nodding when she hoisted him up using every bit of strength she had to support his weight. His knees were buckling and he was dragging his left leg. Marinette wasn't very strong, not strong enough to support the dead weight of a full grown man. She struggled every step of the way, and it would have been impossible had Chat Noir been unconscious.

“Stay with me,” she commanded, “just a few flights of stairs.”

He didn't seem to recognize their surroundings, and couldn't even keep his head up. “W-where are we?” he murmured out once more.

“My place,” she whispered.

He fell silent at that. No flirty quip, or objections; only the sound of his labored breathing broken up by hisses of pain.

Marinette wasn't sure how she got him up those flights of stairs, or how long it took. They stumbled into her apartment both panting from the effort, and she led him to her bathroom.

She tried to let him down easy, and lay him on the floor, but Chat had decided to just give up at that point and crumpled all at once. He made a weighty thunk when his body connected with the bathroom tile. He continued to moan in pain when Marinette unfolded him, and forced him onto his back.

“I need to remove the suit, to clean the wound.” Her words were more of a statement of realization than an explanation to him. I have to undress Chat Noir. The lump that formed in her throat was painful to swallow and her fingers were shaking when she reached for the bell at his neck. “Is this one solid cat suit?”

“Yessss,” he hissed, eyes clenched and teeth gritting.

It took her a second to collect herself and begin undressing him. With a tug of the bell, she pulled the zipper on the front of the suit apart, dragging it down his front to the utility belt at his waist.

He was naked underneath.

She sucked in a sharp breath.

Well his torso was naked at least. She tried not to dwell on that as she unbuckled his belt and began easing the suit from his shoulders. He acted like a limp noodle the whole time and she scolded him, telling him to help her or she'd never get him undressed.

The gloves and boots turned out to be separate pieces from the suit, and with much struggling, panting, and awkward movements she finally divested him of the skin-tight leather. She removed the make-shift housecoat tourniquet only to pull his leg free of the leather, before pressing the cloth back over the wound.

Marinette thanked the heavens he was wearing boxer briefs. Green boxer briefs, with the Gabriel fashion label printed around the waist band. Her face was stained a crimson color regardless and she couldn't even hide it.

“You know, I’ve fantasized about you undressing me,” he chuckled out weakly, his head tilted off to the side.

“Certainly not under these circumstances.” Marinette pushed to her feet and snatched the first aid kit from her medical cabinet. The heat rushed to her cheeks again, and spread over her freckled shoulders.

Chat breathed a long sigh. “The bullet wound is new.”

She wanted to say something back at him, but with all the pain he was enduring she didn't have the heart to sass. He deserved his fantasies if they could distract him in that moment. Marinette dropped to her knees beside him and shoved some pain killers and a washcloth in his face. He recoiled at first to stare at them.

“I'm going to clean the wound, so you need to take these and bite this.”

He swallowed the pills sans water and bit down on the cloth without further prompting. The creases across his expression informing her he was bracing for the pain.

“This will sting,” she warned, extracting a bottle of povidone-iodine from the first aid kit.

“Mrrrfff.” Chat made an about face, looking away the whole time.

Marinette removed the cap, moved the bloodied house coat from the wound and proceeded to pour the iodine over the exposed bullet wound.

Chat screamed, and his whole body curled in on itself.

Were it not for the cloth in his mouth he would’ve woken up the whole building. Even muffled his howls of pain were enough to rend Marinette’s heart into a million agonized pieces.

She mopped the blood and excess antiseptic away, and began placing proper bandages over the wound, starting with an adhesive pad.

When Chat finally recovered, panting heavily through his nose and around clenched teeth, he spit the rag out and glared at her. His eyes burned with intense green fire and he shouted, “why the fuck do you have iodine!?”

“To torture all the injured cat burglars that end up at my mercy.” She replied sarcastically. Marinette secured the bandages with medical tape. “Roll over; I have to get the other side.”

She had to practically force him onto his other side; Chat appeared to be dreading another application of the iodine. The entry point wasn't in much better condition than the exit point, and Marinette repeated the process of pouring the reddish-brown antiseptic over the bullet wound.

Chat screamed a little quieter this time, but he writhed on the floor a lot instead. Arms curling, fists clenching and his good leg jerking as he squirmed in pain. Marinette had to hold his other leg down to keep him from jerking that around too.

He eventually calmed down to a whimpering mess, gnawing on the washcloth for comfort. She quickly applied the bandages and finished by wrapping gauze around his thigh, to assist holding the individual bandages in place.

She sat back to inspect her handiwork and nodded. Not bad for someone who didn't apply first aid very often. At least she hoped.

Chat Noir remained silent while she washed the blood off the rest of his body.

“Can you get up?” Marinette wrapped an arm under him, bracing her feet and heaving the cat burglar off the floor. Chat helped less this time, and she almost tumbled over with him on top of her.

Together, they stumbled out of the bathroom, to the only bedroom in the apartment. He didn't even question when she helped him down on the bed.

Marinette stepped back and assessed the pathetic cat burglar sprawled across her bed. His eyes were closed but his face was still scrunched in pain. The mask he wore still obscuring his identity, but the faux cat ears were crooked and barely clinging to his hair.

She approached him one second-guessed step at a time, and reached a hand out, fingers curling around the right ear. A nervous glance at his face, but Chat didn't even seem to notice, so Marinette eased the first cat ear from his filthy blonde hair. Her fingers ran over the leather, tracing it, considering it; then repeated the process with the second ear, before placing both of them on the nightstand next to her bed. Her eyes flickered to the mask on his face.

He still wasn't looking at her, eyes shut tight, breaths pushed between clenched teeth.

Marinette’s hand crept toward his face. Her fingers testing for the last barrier obscuring his identity from her. Fingertips ghosted over the edges, so close, she only had to hook them under the leather.

Chat’s voice cut the silence, and Marinette caught on a breath she hadn't realized she held. “Don't, remove my mask.” His tone was harsh but subdued.

She snatched her hands away, heart racing in her chest from disappointed anticipation.

He opened his eyes to look at her, his head falling weakly to the side, and his expression was softer. “Please,” he whispered through chapped lips. The black makeup that usually lined his eyes, creating a seamless effect for the mask, was smeared. Tears and sweat had caused the shadow to run, and smudges of skin tone were showing through.

Marinette backed off, and whispered an apology. Then she excused herself to go clean the blood from her bathroom, and anywhere else it might have tracked in the building.

When she returned an hour later with a glass of water, Chat Noir had passed out, labored breathing still ragged, but calmer and more even. She placed the glass on the night stand and pulled a heavy blanket over his body. Her gaze lingered over his face for a long minute.

He trusts me. But why?

Despite the presented opportunity, Marinette didn't remove his mask; she retrieved a change of clothes from her top drawer and left the room. Once stripped from her blood stained pajamas and into a fresh set, she collapsed onto her couch.

Her thoughts wandered to the business card the agents gave her, and the incapacitated cat burglar in her bed. Should she call them? Turn him in? End whatever this was that was happening between her and Chat Noir. She wanted to contemplate the predicament she had landed herself in, but her mind was foggy from exhaustion. She laid her head back against the arm of the couch, closing her eyes for just a moment, but sleep claimed her in minutes.

0000

Chat Noir’s POV

The sound of a door opening and closing startled Chat from the pain filled nightmare he'd been trapped in. His eyes shot open, and ached at the same time, just one more to add to all the rest tormenting his body.

He brought a finger to his eye and slipped out the first contact lens, repeating the process with the other eye. He glanced around for his utility belt and realized for the first time he was in a foreign bed, in a woman’s room, and suddenly everything rushed back like a nauseating nightmare. He placed the lenses on the nightstand, deciding to take care of them later.

Agonizing waves of pain throbbed from the wound in his leg, and his muscles protested his every movement. Chat couldn't quite convince himself to get up from the bed, so he just buried his face back into the pillow and inhaled. His senses became enveloped in the scent of her. It was rosemary, and mint, mixed with the smell of fabric softener. He sinfully indulged in it.

Minutes passed and Chat couldn't ignore the pain anymore. He was also thirsty and need to use the bathroom.

Oh, a glass of water.

Something in his chest tightened at the sight of the glass sitting there. He hadn't asked for it. She just did it. Just like she patched him up, and gave him a place to hide. She didn't have to do any of this. She shouldn't be doing any of this…

His throat constricted while downing the water. There was such an overwhelming ache in his chest, akin to longing, gratitude, and something more wordless.

He forced himself up before he could dwell on it any longer. It was a Herculean effort to get up from the bed, and he stumbled against the nightstand for support. Chat sucked in a pained breath and used the walls to keep himself upright. One slow limp after the next he dragged himself to the door, out into the hall. Stopping at the threshold, only to bite back the pain and strengthen his resolve.

He was nearly to the bathroom.

“Oh God!” Marinette’s voice broke his concentration and caused his heart to stutter at the same time. “I thought you were still sleeping.”

One second she was at the end of the hall, the next she was at his side throwing her arms around his naked torso and lending him support. For the first time he realized she was dressed in house clothes. A sleeveless night shirt hugging her chest, and flannel pants clinging dangerously low on her hips. He could’ve counted the individual freckles decorating the skin of her shoulders if he so desired.

Without permission his body melted against her. His chin coming down to rest against her hair, and the hum that escaped his throat was as traitorous as it was breathy. She smelled like the pillows on her bed. Minty and with a hint of rosemary, she also kinda smelled like bleach.

“Chat?”

His name spoken in question reminded him where they were, and that he was on a quest. No time for beautiful dames. He also realized that he had practically thrown himself on her, and she was shaking from the strain of holding him up.

“S-sorry,” he began, and pulled away. Marinette never removed her hands, lending him stability while he stumbled towards the bathroom.

She helped him just long enough to make it to the toilet. To spare either of them the awkwardness, he asked her to fetch some drinking water. It gave Marinette a good excuse to leave and cease offering him assistance, it also provided him the privacy to relieve himself.

He had just finished washing his hands, and was digging through her medicine cabinet when she returned with the water.

“What are you doing?” she snapped, placing the glass next to the sink with a sharp clack.

He replied in an offhand way, “Raiding your stash for painkillers.”

“This is my place, you could’ve asked me.” Marinette’s hands came down on her hips and she glowered up at him.

A rush of warmth shot through him at her words. This was her place. He was in her place. He knew this, but the reminder still caused fire to crackle under his skin. Chat found the bottle of painkillers and popped the cap, taking a few even whilst Marinette made an about face.

He chased the meds with the water she brought him and cracked a cheeky grin at her indignant expression. “I'm still a thief, Chérie. I don't ask for anything.”

“You asked for help last night,” she pointed out, coping a bit of an attitude at his presumptuous behavior.

“Yes,” he mused, leaning against the sink to relieve the weight on his leg. He tried to assume a flirty pose at the same time, head cocked to the side. It never escaped his attention that Marinette’s eyes strayed over the contours of his chest, and even farther down, before she reined them in and pinned them back on his face. “But I had to steal your heart first.”

“Excuse me?!” She recoiled like he bit her. He wanted to bite her, but that was beside the point. “My heart is still very much my own.”

Chat let his grin pull wider, cocking a brow, an amused chuckle vibrating his chest. The woman before him was blushing like mad, and worked up despite her denial.

Marinette scowled at his teasing expression and spat venomously, “you aren't that good of a thief.”

We’ll see about that.

She was fidgeting under his gaze, teeth worrying her bottom lip, and arms clutching her elbows. Her eyes had dropped to the floor, and her face was flushed a red color. “I had some pastries delivered if you’re hungry. They’re in the kitchen.”

“Thank you,” Chat said, and this time he spoke with sincerity, dropping his teasing tone from before.

She looked back up at him, and he gave her a smile of gratitude that reached his eyes. His real eyes. She seemed to realize this, because her gaze kept darting back and forth across his face. She looked overcome with confusion; like someone trying to place where’d they seen a face before. He had to speak before she placed where she'd seen those eyes before.

“Can you wash my hair?”

That did the trick. The woman before him blinked in surprise, suddenly processing his request.

“I can’t shower or I'd do it myself.” He gestured unnecessarily at the wound in his leg.

That drew Marinette's attention to the bandages and her face lit up with realization. “I need to change those.”

“Yes, that too,” he teased.

He regretted it later. Marinette pointed out that he wasn't so flirty once she dowsed his wounds with fresh iodine and redressed them with new adhesive pads and gauze. He called her a witch for taking amusement in his pain, and it only made her laugh harder.

He adored her laugh.

She was forgiven when she agreed to wash his hair. Together, they finagled a chair against the sink that he could sit on and lean his head back. Her fingers felt like heaven in his hair. Her manicured nails massaging shampoo into his scalp, dragging through his blonde locks with a tenderness that reduced him to a boneless mess.

She never once attempted to remove his mask, didn't even bring it up.

He wasn't looking forward to removing it and washing his face. It was fortunate that he wasn't working anymore, for an undefined period of time, because his skin was going to hate him for wearing the mask and make-up for so long.

“Does that feel good?” Marinette’s amused murmur interrupted his thoughts.

“Hmmm?”

“You were making sounds,” she explained, then added with a chuckle, “kinda like a cat.”

“Your hands feel amazing, Purrincess.” The wistful sigh he let out betrayed more feeling than he wanted. “Afterwards you’re welcome to bathe the rest of me,” he added, falling back on inappropriate flirtation to mask more vulnerable emotions. “I’m sure your hands would love to run the paths that your eyes keep tracing.”

Marinette yanked her hands from his hair quite painfully and ceased rinsing the soap from it.

He attempted to crack an eye open to chance a peak at her flustered expression, but a towel came down on his face instead.

“You nasty cat!” she snarled. “Wash your own damn body!”

The sound of the door slamming informed Chat that she had left the bathroom in a huff; he didn't even have to remove the towel to confirm. Her reaction to his words amused him, but left a hollow void in his chest at the same time. He already missed her hands in his hair.

I’m in too damn deep

Chapter Text

Marinette’s Pov

The rushing sound of water, muffled by the bathroom door, informed Marinette that Chat was busy with his bath. Well, what constituted as a bath for him. Steam slipped through the cracks in the door frame like smoke escaping a fire. He had to have the water temperature hotter than what most women preferred. And for a simple sponge bath no less.

The rest of the apartment was quiet, and Marinette stood in her kitchen attempting to work the blood stains out of Chat’s suit. The night before, during her brief cleaning crusade, she had treated the suit with soap and water. Now she was doing a follow up to make sure the stains came out, before sitting down to mend the bullet hole.

She wondered if Chat had more than one suit, and who made this one. The suit was actually well made, but there was no clue, no tag, nor signature, or anything that gave away who the maker was. Whoever made it, knew their way around fashion, as well as a needle, because it was strong and resilient, but also stylish, and the seams were well concealed.

After working vigorously on the stains, she hung the suit up to dry and turned her attention to the utility belt strewn over the countertop. The urge to satisfy her curiosity and rummage through the belt was too much to resist. He'd said no to the mask, but not his belt.

She opened the first pouch and picked around inside. There were strange devices she'd never seen before, a set of lock picks, a couple of mundane objects she couldn’t figure out the use for. In another pouch she found more strange devices, and a contact lens case, as well as the fluid. The other pockets and pouches yielded much the same result, except for one.

There was a zippered pocket lining the inside of one of the pouches, and in the pocket she extracted a ring and her ladybug charm.

At first she thought the ring had to be the one pilfered from the pawnbroker in the St. Germain district.

But it wasn't a cat’s head.

It was a large gaudy black ring, made of some sort of precious metal she couldn't identify. It was set with five emeralds, and the emeralds were arranged to form Chat Noir’s insignia. A cat’s paw, consisting of the pad with four little toe beans. The same insignia he often marked the gifts with, the gifts he so often left in her office.

It was the same ring she saw him wearing that night in the rain, when he gave her the umbrella.

Marinette turned the ladybug charm over in her hand. Unlike the ring, her charm was worthless. It was a glorified piece of costume jewelry. There wasn't a reason for Chat Noir to even want something like this. It didn't fit his M.O. He only ever stole cat related things, but here he was with her charm, keeping it on his person, like a trophy, or a keepsake.

It made her throat feel tight.

It also made her think of the bell he'd given her, and how it was still in the nightstand next to her bed. All it would take was Chat Noir opening that drawer to find the bell she'd told him she threw away.

Never in her life had she sprinted through her home so fast. The contents of Chat’s belt forgotten, and strewn across her countertop. She darted passed the steaming bathroom, and into the bedroom, hands closing over the handle of her nightstand. She ripped the drawer open so fast it grated on the tracks, and jarred the contents inside.

The bell was still there, in the same place she’d left it. Marinette prayed that it meant he hadn't found it yet. She snatched the bell from the drawer and made a sweep around her room, trying to find a hiding spot for it where a thief wouldn't think to look.

Finally she decided on her back-up stash of tampons, and buried the bell underneath all the applicators. With any luck, Chat Noir shared the same stigma against tampons that the majority of men did, and would keep his nasty little paws out of her stash.

The curator tip-toed from her bedroom and back out to the kitchen just as the water shut off in the bathroom. She sank down into her couch, contemplating the cat burglar and the right mess he'd gotten her into.

Her car was dented in on the roof, and it had been a little adventure that morning trying to bleach all the blood off the top of her vehicle and from the upholstery in the interior. Then there was the issue of how long Chat would be holed up at her place. Who shot him? Why? Was he still planning to rob her exhibit? Why did he call her for help in the first place? She could just as easily turn him over to the authorities. And that left her off at the biggest conundrum.

Why wasn't she turning him in to the authorities?

The object plaguing her thoughts limped into the entrance of the living room, bracing himself against the threshold, looking like he just stepped out of an underwear ad from a Gabriel fashion magazine. The label on his green boxer briefs catching her eye, not for the first time.

Her stare lingered over him, tracing the elastic of his sole article of clothing and following it to the V from his crotch before dragging over the defined muscles on his abdomen. Her throat got a lot dryer, and she involuntarily moved onto his chest. The term rippling pectorals seemed like an accurate one to her mind at that moment, the man certainly had upper body strength- among other things. His lack of body hair intrigued her as much as it puzzled her. Maybe it was easier to don a leather suit with waxed skin?

Her eyes crawled over the line of his throat, practically caressing his Adam’s apple before she realized he had fine stubble on his chin. How had she missed that? His face had always been clean shaven before, but now he looked dangerously rugged. Her stare inched up to his mouth which was pulled into the most arrogant smirk she'd ever seen. Her eyes snapped up to his and he was watching her with a self-satisfied expression.

“Enjoying the view?”

Marinette felt like she was gargling the Sahara. Her skin lit afire as if she dove face first into the blistering sands and just drank it all in.

“I-uh…” she trailed off cursing her sudden lapse in articulation. I was ogling him! Him! And it was so obvious! With the intensity that her skin was burning it was a surprise she didn't spontaneously combust right there on the couch.

Chat took her embarrassment in stride, his grin becoming more Cheshire when he revealed the whites of his teeth. He stayed rooted to the entrance of the hall, weight offset to his right leg and shoulder pressed against the wall, while his left hand reached out to brace himself against the opposite side.

When he finally spoke it was with a teasing light tenor. “Vill du ha mig?” The question slipped off his tongue in a language she'd never heard before. It was clear from the way he spoke it, she wasn't meant to understand.

When she blinked in reply and knit her brow, he chuckled and pushed off from the wall, limping his way to the kitchen and passed the sofa. He used the walls for support, his arms carrying much of his weight. She watched him the whole time despite herself, his presence casting some sort of irritating spell over her, a mix of fascination and agonizing embarrassment.

The severity of the situation the night before had distracted her from how much this man attracted her attention. But with the threat of the previous night lifted, it left nothing for her mind to grasp except him.

She loathed it.

When Chat reached the edge of the sofa, he paused only for a moment to shoot her a heated look that, combined with the fire in her skin, should have reduced her to a pile of ash. He must have washed his face, because the smudged black make-up no longer framed his eyes. Instead it was skin-tone separating the mask from his chartreuse-green stare.

Om du vill ha mig, kom och ta mig.” Chat murmured in a sensual purr, that almost rolled over her ears like a caress. His voice lacking the playfulness from before and taking on a more evocative quality.

                             Speaking Swedish

Marinette swallowed thickly still dumbstruck by the whole situation. Wide-eyed stare and obvious confusion etched all over her face like an actor from a low-budget film. She really had no poker face.

Chat Noir chuckled and resumed his slow quest. He reached the kitchen and stopped, shooting an annoyed expression at her from over his shoulder. The smirk on his face was gone, replaced with a tight-lipped frown.

Oh shit. It slipped her mind that the contents of his disemboweled utility belt were still strewn over her counter top. Blatant evidence that she’d invaded his privacy while he’d been otherwise occupied.

The sour expression didn't last long. He turned away from her with a shake of his head and an audible sigh. “Where’s the food?”

“Huh?” Marinette finally broke out of her stupor and forced herself up from the couch, realizing her unwanted house guest was hungry.

“Food, Purrincess,” repeated Chat. He poked his head back out of the kitchen and raised his brows expectantly.

“First of all,” she started, attempting to reign in her traitorous hormones by adopting an attitude, “the food is now in the living room. Second, you need to stop wandering around my apartment or you’re going to open your leg wound again.”

Chat Noir started at her sudden shift in attitude.
Marinette approached him and shoved an indignant finger in the direction of the couch. “Sit, kitty.”

When he made to limp passed her she grabbed hold of him and helped him to the couch, ignoring the sudden racing quality her heart adopted just from the proximity. Once seated, she proceeded to toss a couple throw pillows at him, and sat herself in the matching recliner, arms crossed under her chest.

It took Chat a few minutes of finagling to prop his leg up and situate the pillows in a comfortable way. The entire time his face was scrunched up in various expressions of pain and his labored breaths were broken up only by hisses. Marinette could tell he wasn't doing nearly as well as his earlier levity made it seem.

When he finally turned his attention to the box of pastries on the coffee table, he just stared at them with a blank expression. Like they weren't even food.

“What?” Marinette barked a little too testily.

“Is this breakfast?” He continued to stare, hand frozen on the open lid of the box.

“I realize it isn’t Kibbles ‘n Bits,” she retorted, “but I didn’t have time to go shopping, so I ordered in from a local bakery.”

Chat continued to stare at the food, and swallowed so hard it made his Adam’s apple bob.

For several minutes the cat burglar eyed the food, and when he did reach in to grab a pastry it was with the kind of exaggerated slow motion you'd expect from a naughty child. He placed a chocolate glazed éclair on a small plate and brought it to his chest where he began picking it apart rather than eating it.

Marinette just stared at him with a look of incredulity. “Do you hate pastries?”

Chat looked up from the eviscerated remains of the éclair, he had a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. A second later he picked up a piece of the pastry and put it in his mouth, never breaking their odd eye contact.

Despite the peculiar start to their breakfast he ate the whole éclair, and even licked the plate. When he was done he stared at the box of pastries with the longing expression of a starved child. It took Marinette telling him to eat as much as he wanted for him to tentatively take another. She was relieved when he didn't rend the second one to tiny pieces and ate it with a bit more normalcy.

He ate a third one in three bites when he thought she wasn't looking.

A strange muffled hissing noise interrupted their breakfast, and Chat about jumped off the couch in fright. She swore if he'd been a real cat his tail would've poofed out and his hackles would be raised. Chat’s hand shot up to his right ear, where he fiddled with some buttons until the sound ceased, then spoke an annoyed greeting into the device.

“Hello, Plagg.”

Noise akin to indignant protests erupted from the earpiece.

Marinette had trouble following half a conversation. Chat spoke in a hushed tone, and it was hard to understand what he was talking about, given she only heard his half of the argument. It wasn't hard to deduce that she was involved in some way, if not the subject of the conversation; because Chat kept shooting side long looks at her the whole time. Whoever was on the other end, sounded very irate, because their voice kept peaking loud enough for her to hear, even if she couldn't make out any words.

After several minutes of heated conversation, and Chat blowing the speaker off with a scoff, the cat burglar suddenly tossed the earpiece at Marinette. The device hit her left breast and it took all her reflexes to snatch if from the air when it ricocheted. She juggled it for a moment and shot Chat Noir a look.

He rolled his eyes, “My partner insists on speaking to you.”

Marinette brought the earpiece tentatively to her ear, holding it against the side of her face rather than attempting to attach it. “Hello?” She tested, and waited a moment, listening for the voice of Chat’s mysterious cohort on the other end.

A deep throated, gargled sound croaked out a greeting on the other end. “Hello, Marinette.”

Well he knew her name, but that wasn't so surprising given Chat Noir knew her name, “So this is Plagg?” She tested out the name on her tongue; it was what Chat had addressed the person when he answered the earpiece.

“Has he been talking about me?” The deep garbled voice sounded downright irate.

Marinette couldn't help but laugh. She clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle the noise and turned to the cat burglar sprawled over her couch, he was watching her with a curious smile and bright eyes. “Is he using a voice changer?” She managed to chuckle out, trying to keep her giggles under control.

Chat’s face erupted into a huge grin, and his chest shook from quiet laughter.

“You’re using a voice changer, aren’t you?” She had to fight back the urge to burst into fits of laughter. It was just so ridiculous.

“This is serious!” Snarled the voice that was now the subject of the room’s hilarity. “You seem to have come into possession of my cat.”

When the curator finally got a cap on her laughter she addressed Plagg’s concern with her own, “when I picked up your cat, it was bleeding to death in an alley.”

“That's very unfortunate. There was a territory dispute with another Tom and he's rather stubborn. I'm sorry you were roped into this.”

“So when are you coming to collect him?” She eyed Chat on the couch, his eyes were busy combing over her body and it was starting to make her uncomfortable as well as self conscious.

“I cannot jeopardize myself by coming to get him. He’ll have to stay with you till he’s well enough to walk.”

She frowned at this new information. “You do realize I could turn him over to the pound at any time.”

“Yes,” Plagg’s altered voice drawled. “That was a risk he was willing to take when he called you. I can't stop you, and he’s aware of the consequences already.”

“Right…” her heart gave a sudden painful wrench when she looked at Chat Noir again. He wasn't smiling anymore, or even conspicuously admiring her with his gaze. Instead, he had a pensive expression that was trained on her feet. It felt like this conversation alone was betraying the trust he'd placed in her.

The pain rippled through her chest again, and she gripped the earpiece tighter. Why do I care? She willed the stuttering mess of her traitorous heart to calm itself.

Plagg’s next words sent her heart into another unwelcome spasm.

“He’s become rather attached to you, Marinette.” She found it odd that Plagg was using her first name. Chat never used any of her names, only the strange endearments he'd selected for her.

I’m starting to become rather fond of him too, was her silent response. Her cheeks flushed with a sudden heat at her own thoughts, the sound of her pulse rushing in her ears almost enough to drown out the voice in the earpiece.

“I'm worried his affections towards you are becoming genuine,” Plagg continued, his voice taking on a harsh level of severity that had been absent before. “I hope you realize what a problem this is.”

A choke almost escaped the back of her throat. “…yes.” She replied, still eyeing the despondent cat burglar, and trying not to let on the direction the conversation had turned. It was fortunate that he wasn't looking at her because her flushed skin was snitching on her.

“He will not listen to me. For the sake of you both, end whatever it is he sees between you. Before it's too late.”

Marinette dug her toes into the carpet of her living room, and raked her nails over her elbow in a nervous gesture. Chat still refused to look at her, his gaze melting holes into various spots on her floor. “I make no promises concerning your lost cat.” She answered cryptically, then tossed the earpiece back at Chat Noir. To Chat, it would sound as if she were still unsure whether to turn him in or not. To Plagg, it held a completely different meaning. She wasn't entirely sure she wanted to put an end to whatever it was that was happening, and that in and of itself, frightened her.

The cat burglar snatched the device from the air with almost inhuman accuracy, muttered a displeased, “goodbye,” to his cohort and flicked the earpiece across the coffee table, where it clattered against the pastry box.

The silence in the wake of that awkward conversation was tangible enough to suffocate.

Chat wouldn't speak, nor look at her, living up to the attitude of his alias. It wasn't often that she saw the mirth absent from his features; she’d grown so accustomed to his flirty grins, and mischievous smirks. The despondency was as foreign as the language he’d spoken earlier.
She didn't know what to say to him. The cause of his bitter mood was obvious, but she couldn't promise she wouldn't turn him in. It was an option she contemplated far too often. The temptation just as seductive as he was. And that was her dilemma; do the right thing or indulge her reckless fascination with him?

There was still time, she reminded herself. In the current situation the cat burglar was quite harmless. He wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and he certainly wasn't going to be robbing anyone in his condition.

The silence continued to stretch between them, until Marinette couldn't take it anymore. She excused herself from the room so she could change from her house clothes into something more appropriate. Chat Noir made no acknowledgment, only sprawled out further on the couch, and shut his eyes as if to sleep.

So many things about him reminded her of a cat, right down to his fickle attitudes.

Marinette dressed in a pair of dark wash skinny jeans, boots, and delicate pink blouse with fluttered short sleeves. She pulled her black hair into a loose knot, held in place with a couple of simple hairsticks, and slipped a pair of shades on the top of her head. A brief glance in her floor mirror to confirm she looked decent, and Marinette snatched up her purse, heading back out to the living room.

“I'm going out,” she announced to her crippled houseguest. She spared a glance at him, to confirm he was still marooned on her couch; which he was. “Behave,” she added.

Chat cracked one wheat-grass colored eye at her, and snapped it back shut just as quickly, setting his cut jaw.

She bristled from his attitude and stalked from the apartment, locking the door behind her.

0000

It was nearly four hours later that she returned to the apartment, arms laden with shopping bags ranging from groceries to first aide. She fumbled with the door key for several minutes before she managed to get it open, and stumbled into her apartment with the grace of an ox.

Heated shivers worked their way down her back, followed by the chilly feeling of claws raking up her spine before a chill pooled in the back of her skull. It was familiar and unnerving at the same time, and a most unconventional greeting from her rescued feline.

“Hello, to you too, Chat Noir,” she found herself murmuring. He wasn't on the couch where she’d left him, nor anywhere else in the front of the apartment, and if it weren't for the tell-tale giveaway of his presence she might have wondered if he'd left. Marinette doubted a bullet wound could keep him in one place if he really wanted to leave.

The groceries she bought were simple frozen dishes, and prepared meals. Something Chat could easily fix himself while she was gone, or something easy for her to make after she got home from work. Her schedule left almost no time to cook, and she couldn't just let the man starve. They were easy enough to store in her ice box and cupboards, once finished she gathered the rest of the bags and retreated to the bathroom to store the fresh first aid supplies.

The inside of her bathroom was a disaster. Wet towels were strewn about from his bath that morning, as well as an iodine-stained wash rag, and it appeared he changed his own bandages while she was out because adhesive pad wrappers and leftover gauze littered the countertop. The bloodied used bandages were a wadded up heap in the trash and her bottle of povidone-iodine had gone missing.

Sucks to be him, I bought a new bottle.

As it turned out the elusive cat burglar was snooping through her closet when she entered the bedroom. Her mouth opened to snap at him, then shut with a click of her teeth when she saw some of her sketch books strewn across the bed. One of them was open to a page of dress designs, and one particular design more memorable than the rest.

The red dress.

“It's incredibly rude to invade a woman’s privacy, Chat Noir.”

“In the interest of gender equality, you invaded my privacy first,” he snipped back, bracing himself against the closet door and shooting her a cheeky expression. “Payback is a bitch, Purrincess.”

“Keep this up and I'll make good on the old adage, curiosity killed the cat.”

Chat Noir pushed off from the closet and limped away from her clothes. While he moved, a few odd lumps in Chat’s underwear caught Marinette’s eye and she dropped her gaze to scrutinize them.

“I'd ask what you have stuffed down your undergarments, but knowing you I’ll only be setting myself up for some lewd response concerning your dick.” She was glowering at him, even whilst a cheeky grin stretched over his features. “So, I'm just going to say this: don't you dare steal from me again, and get whatever it is that is mine out of your pants.”

“This cat has been yours since you beat him over the head with a rock; does this mean I must remove myself from the pants as well?” Chat Noir settled onto the bed with a series of winces, and pained breaths, but managed to recover and paste a coy smile back on his face. “Because I have no objections~” he finished with a purr, finger tracing the waistband of his designer labeled briefs.

Marinette’s face erupted in a wave of heat that traveled over her neck and settled on her shoulders. She hurled the final bag she’d been holding at the thief’s face and gave a shriek of frustration before stomping out of the room. Her bare heels connected loudly with the floor and her fingers curled so tightly into fists her knuckles were turning white.

Plagg had to be so wrong about him. There was no way he had any sort of genuine feelings. This Chat was lascivious, obscenely forward, and just… impossible. And to think she found him charming when they first met.

“I can't believe I bought him clothes to wear.” She muttered to herself once she reached the living room. “He doesn't deserve them.” Despite how miffed she was about his indecent comments, the alternative was to let Chat continue to waltz through her apartment nearly naked, and that was even more problematic. It was hard enough to concentrate just being around him, seeing his unclothed body did things to her that she wasn't comfortable feeling for the man.

She spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding him, and only changed his bandages in the evening when she brought him something to eat. The iodine had stained his skin around the bullet wound, marring his flesh with a murky orange color, which Chat complained excessively about. When she asked what the fuss was about, since his catsuit covered all of his skin anyway, it was like someone hit the mute button and that was the end of that conversation.

Chat once again gave the food a speculative look, and proceeded to move it around the plate rather than eat it. When she asked what was wrong with it, he remained stoic, face an unreadable mask. Not that he answered many of her questions anyway. Marinette eventually gave up and left the room.

She didn't see him for the rest of the evening and eventually fell asleep on the couch watching reruns of old television shows.

0000

Chat Noir wasn't doing so well the next morning when she entered the bedroom to bring him breakfast and fetch clothes for work. He was writhing on the bed, breathing heavily, tossing and turning in an attempt to get comfortable. The blankets were kicked off the edge of the bed, and his hands frequently made fists in the sheets. Marinette bolted to the bathroom to fetch the painkillers and returned with a glass of water.

After downing the medicine, he was whispering his appreciation like a prayer through chapped lips.

Marinette watched him curl in on himself, grinding his teeth, and curling his fingers, waiting for the meds to kick in. It made her chest ache to see him hurt so much. When he thrashed in her direction she raised a tentative hand, uncertainty making her pause, then buried her fingers in the soft tresses of his hair. The gesture startled him at first, his whole body going tense under her touch, and it took her a moment before she worked up the courage to massage the top of his head.

To her astonishment, Chat Noir let slip a vulnerable whimper and made no movement to stop her. It took several minutes before he relaxed, but his body continued to quiver on occasion from the pain, hands still clenching. She brought her nails over his scalp, and curled them around the back of his ear, then reversed the motion dragging the pads of her fingers back to the top of his head. Marinette continued the motion, slowly moving down the back of his head, till her fingers tangled in the shorter hairs at the nape of his neck.

A noise of appreciation spilled from the man lying next to her, it was shuddering and breathy and caused a shiver to work its way through her own body. His hair was soft, she noted; soft and fluffy, the blonde color sandy, with natural highlights. It was longer and coiffed at the top, but tapered off at the back of his neck where the hair was trimmed shorter.

Marinette brushed the hair away from his ears, and noticed they were pierced. It was a detail she hadn't stopped to consider before; each lobe had a small silver loop. Absently, her fingers trailed over his ear, played with the piercing, then continued along the line of his jaw, his stubble tickling her hand and tugging a smile at the corner of her mouth.

“Hmmm,” he sounded content, almost pleased and leaned into her touch.

The acknowledgment of the affectionate gesture, both her own, and his, startled her from the intimate caress and she yanked her hand back to the top of his head. She resumed massaging his scalp, but with more restraint and a mechanical motion. Chat made no protest, but ceased making noises, accepting her gesture in silence.

Thirty minutes passed before Marinette realized he’d fallen asleep again.Head rubs

At least he isn't hurting anymore. Her fingers felt cold when she withdrew them from his warm mane. As carefully as she could, Marinette got up from the bed, gathered her clothes, and left the room.

She escaped to the bathroom to change into her outfit for work; slipping on a white blouse, grey blazer, with pink lining, and a matching grey pencil skirt with pink lace trim. She fastened the buttons on the front of the blazer and brushed her hair into a neat bun. The makeup she applied was minimal. Today was the last day before the Grand Opening of the Egyptian exhibit. It was the final day for preparations, and she could not miss it.

Not even for the wounded cat burglar.

Tikki was already going to be irate that she'd taken Saturday off without explanation. She was going to have to figure out one hell of an excuse before she arrived at work this morning.

Marinette gathered the rest of her things, and stopped to check on Chat once more. The sight of him caused her to gnaw on her lower lip. He was still curled the same way she’d left him. Hadn't even moved an inch, half of his face hidden in the pillows. She let out a sigh, and placed the bottle of painkillers on the nightstand, where he’d have easier access, then left him a glass of water and a hastily scribbled note.

She wouldn't be seeing him again for over twelve hours.

0000

It was thirteen actually. Thirteen long arduous hours of work, last minute preparations, and a myriad of calls to confirm that everything and everyone would be according to schedule. Lila had been there before Marinette, cleaning and touching up some of the larger artifacts, which absolutely floored the curator. Max and his tech savvy lackeys were testing the security. It was fortunate the museum was closed on Sundays, because the alarms went off frequently with each test, while the men worked out the final bugs.

After the initial scolding of the morning, Tikki’s mood lightened up, and she didn't press Marinette for details about her absence the previous day. Juleka shadowed her boss nearly the entire day, making herself useful in any way she could. Even the ever cynical Felix stayed late, which was unusual for him. The chubby Spanish-looking man tended to be the first to leave, but he stayed for the long hours until Marinette was ready to go home.

“Are you bringing a date tomorrow?” Juleka posed the question while the two women were in the office packing up their belongings.

“For the Grand Opening?” Marinette shut down her computer, hearing the tower release a tired sigh when the machine shut off.

“It's going to be a formal event,” explained her assistant unnecessarily. It was her job to remind her boss about the acute details. “All our sponsors will be in attendance, even Chloe will be there,” she added.

Without permission the curator’s mind wandered to the infuriatingly attractive man sequestered in her apartment. Imagine showing up to the Grand Opening on the arm of the internationally infamous Chat Noir. Her cheeks lit up with a crimson heat for even entertaining the thought and guilt wrenched painfully in her stomach. He’s a thief, and you’re aiding and abetting a criminal.

Marinette was cursing herself when Juleka posed an idea. “Why not take your professor friend?”

“Nathaniel?” The curator ceased her internal damning and fixed her assistant with a curious look.

Juleka nodded, her dark hair swishing with the movement, “the one you went to lunch with not long ago. You spoke nicely of him.”

“That's not a bad idea,” she mused. “The exhibit is his cup of tea, so I won't have to worry that it's boring him, and since we’re friends, he won't get the wrong idea if I ask him to accompany me.”

“Do you think he will agree on such short notice?”

Marinette pulled out her cell and began typing up a text message. “Only one way to find out.”

They watched Lila stroll by the office with her usual holier-than-thou attitude just as Marinette sent the text. Juleka expressed a concerned look when her boss furrowed a brow at the conservator. The Italian vixen continued to be aloof and there hadn't been a proper time to approach her.

“I'm going to attempt a word with her tomorrow,” mumbled Marinette. Juleka worried her lip, to keep from voicing her concerns. “I promised Max I would try,” she explained to her assistant.

“I just don't think you should involve yourself.” Juleka was speaking her concerns as a friend, rather than an employee. “Lila’s never been fond of you, and neither you of her. I don't see this ending well.”

“I know,” breathed the curator.

On their way out, Marinette’s phone chimed with a text message. She fished it out, only to adopt a relieved smile upon reading it. “I have a date for tomorrow.”

Juleka smiled, it was her way of expressing pleasure that her boss was prepared for the Grand Opening. They both fell silent while Marinette continued to text Nathaniel about the details, the clickety sound of typing accenting their heels against the concrete.

“Nathaniel’s agreed to meet me outside the museum tomorrow, since I’ll already be here.” It went without saying that Marinette would be arriving early with Tikki to make preparations before the guests started arriving. For once Juleka would not be required, and was welcome to come and go from the event as she pleased, the curator could only envy that kind of laxity.

When they arrived in the parking garage, the two women parted ways, sharing wishes of good fortune for the following evening.

It will be a good evening, thought Marinette when she started the engine of her Panda. She reached a hand up to poke the dent in her car’s roof and mused about the crippled cat burglar waiting for her at home. Chat Noir won't be robbing anything anytime soon, especially not my exhibit. She couldn't hold back the self-satisfied smirk at the thought.

0000

“No, no, no!” Her yellow Panda screeched to a halt outside her apartment complex. “Fuck!” Marinette cursed and grappled with the handle of her car door in a hurry to get out. Another text message chimed just as she spilled out, slamming the door while she checked it. It was another text from Alya saying her and Nino would be there in less than five minutes.

When Marinette told her best friend that she wanted to talk, it was before she had a wanted criminal holed up inside her home. Despite Marinette’s insistence that she was too tired to entertain company, and have their inevitable discussion about Nino’s occupation, Alya insisted upon it anyway; claiming they needed to celebrate the Grand Opening taking place tomorrow. She even sent a picture of the wine she was bringing over.

Marinette took the stairs two at a time, flying up the floors till she reached her apartment. The keys scraped loudly against the handle when she forced them into the lock, and she was surprised the door didn't come off the hinges when she tackled it open.

“Hide!” She shouted, and slammed her back painfully against the door to close it. Her shoes gave her a bit of trouble as she bounced around trying to pull them off and shed her blazer at the same time. When Marinette stumbled into the living room she swept her eyes around to assure nothing was out of place. Then dashed into the kitchen and ripped the leather catsuit from where it was hung to dry. Her fingers frantically rolled the material up while she searched for the belt, but it was nowhere to be found.

Marinette burst into the bedroom and hurled the suit into the back of her closet, burying it under a pile of shoes. Chat Noir was lying on her bed looking frightened by her frantic behavior, his hands were busy stuffing his belt into one of her pillow cases. His blond hair was a fluffed mess, which meant he’d spent most of the day sleeping, and his tired eyes raked over her with wordless inquiry.

“My friend is on her way right now with her fiancé, and they cannot find you here or all hell will break loose.”

“Where can I hide?” Stressed Chat, his gaze combing over the room and coming up with nothing.

Marinette did the same; the closet was out because Chat wouldn't be able to stand upright that long. The bed was too low for him to slip underneath, and there wasn't a single other location in the apartment that would suffice.

“Lay flat on the bed,” she ordered.

Chat looked dubious about her request, but complied. When he was completely stretched out, as flat against the bed as he could manage, Marinette began throwing pillows and blankets over him. She arranged them in a messy way, to conceal the presence of a body, and for once felt a swell of pride that she owned such a ridiculous amount of pillows.

“Just try not to breathe and don't make a sound,” she instructed. As long as Chat’s breaths were kept to a minimum it would keep the bed from shifting oddly.

“Easier said than done,” he snarled, but his tone was muffled by the bedding.

“I'll try to keep them to the front of the apartment.” She was out of the room, snapping off the light and shutting the door, then racing into the bathroom a minute later. The waistbasket full of bloody bandages got dumped at the bottom of her towel cupboard behind the cleaning supplies. The first aide equipment shoved haphazardly back into the medical cabinet, and the iodine-stained towels thrown into the laundry hamper, just as the door bell rang.

Marinette had to bite back a string of swear words and calm her frazzled nerves on her way to the front door. She wrenched it open and managed to plaster a strained smile on her face just in time to greet them.

“Heeeey.” It sounded more like the groan of a squeaky door rather than a proper greeting.

“Hey girl!” Alya pushed her way into the apartment with the kind of familiarity you’d expect of an obnoxious best friend.

Marinette stumbled off to the side of the entryway, and attempted to smile at Nino. He was wearing casual clothes this time, looking the way she had grown accustomed to seeing. There was a sheepish expression on his face when he mumbled a low apology, though whether it was for his fiancé’s bullish behavior, or his secret occupation, she couldn't tell.

With copious amounts of resignation, that she hoped wasn't as noticeable as it felt, she ushered Nino into the apartment and asked him to remove his shoes. Alya was taking down wine glasses and popping the top of the bottle by the time Marinette and Nino made it to the kitchen.

“She’s already had a few glasses,” whispered Nino, they were both watching his fiancé juggle the bottle and dribble the burgundy liquid as much on the counter as she was in the glasses.

Marinette’s already strained grin just stretched more, until it felt like the corners of her mouth would be permanently creased.

“Congratulations are in order!” Crowed the auburn-haired woman. She waved a glass around before shoving it into Marinette’s clumsy fingers. The curator barely managed to snatch it before her best friend released it.

“Isn't it a bit too early to celebrate? The exhibit hasn't even opened yet.”

Alya narrowed her eyes behind her thick-rimmed spectacles and frowned. “This isn't about the success of your exhibit, this is about the freedom that follows. You, my-little-workaholic, are finally free to let loose. No more six to seven day work weeks, no more twelve hour days, and no more boring pencil skirts and stuffy blazers.” She picked up her own wine glass, waved it about for emphasis and the contents sloshed dangerously about with it.

“You make it sound like I'm quitting my job.”

“Mari, you live your job. I wouldn't be surprised if you brought it home with you.”

The curator had to stifle a dry chuckle, and took a sip of the wine to help take the edge off her nerves. “You’re right, we should go out more. I'll finally have the time.”

“Damn straight. We can go bar hopping, or to a club, and you can pick up guys.”
“Ok!” Cut in Nino, he pushed passed Marinette and attempted to reign in his fiancé. “I think someone’s had a bit too much to drink already. Mari doesn't need you throwing her into bed with strange men.”

“That reminds me,” started Alya. She propped herself against the counter and shooed the hovering male away. “How’s it going with that mystery man you want so bad, but don't want to want so bad?”

“Can we not have this conversation right now?” The back of Marinette’s neck was starting to feel damp and she downed the rest of her wine with a painful gulp. “I don't think Nino wants to hear about it.”

“No, not really,” he agreed.

Alya made an about face and refilled Marinette’s glass. Luckily, she only dribbled wine on the floor instead on her friend. “Why don't we talk about Nino’s job instead? You wanted to discuss that right?”

Marinette coughed out a nervous chuckle, “why don't we talk about that another time too?”

“I'm sorry you found out the way you did,” mumbled Nino.

“He uses the whole music thing as a cover when he travels,” Alya blurted loudly. It seemed everyone would be ignoring Marinette’s requests tonight. “He’s been on the tail of this thief for ages, turns out that's why he moved to Paris when we met.”

“Wait wait wait.” It was Marinette's turn to shake her own glass around, “you haven't told Alya until just recently?”

“Well it defeats the whole purpose of a cover, if the whole world knows about it. She isn't exactly being subtle about it now, if you haven't noticed.”

This was true, Alya was a journalist, gossip having long replaced her own blood. It seemed intoxicated Alya was having no qualms with barking loudly about her fiancé’s private life.

“But she’s your fiancé! How do you get that far in a relationship built upon secret identities?”

“Shoosh~” shushed her bespectacled friend, “I think it's cool that Nino’s a secret agent man. A top secret Interpol agent chasing the infamous Chat Noir all across Europe! How romantic is that?”

Please, stop talking. Marinette gripped the bridge of her nose after taking a large mouthful of wine. She felt sick and the wine wasn't helping as much as she hoped.

“It's not top secret anymore,” muttered Nino grumpily. He adjusted his ball cap and folded his arms over his chest. “So yeah, I'm work for Interpol, and I didn't go to London for a music tour… exactly. I was there assisting the London Police in the capture of Chat Noir.”

“It's obvious that didn't happen,” snipped Marinette critically.

Nino nodded quietly. “When we missed him in London, we traced him back to Paris. So, now I'm back home working with the PP.”

“He's my date tomorrow night for the Grand Opening,” announced Alya loudly. “His agents will be working the party in case Chat Noir decides to strike.”

Marinette shut her eyes and tried to keep a straight face. “He’s your fiancé; he would've been your date regardless.”

“Yes, but now he’s going to-“

And that's enough, my dear!” Nino clapped his hand over Alya’s mouth and pulled the mostly empty wine glass away. “I said we could discuss my job before I came back to Paris. Everything from here on out is confidential, at least until we catch the cat.” Nino turned to Marinette once more and offered her an apologetic tilt of his head. “Let’s talk about this again, under better circumstances.”

Alya continued to make a nuisance of herself, and it took the combined efforts of both Nino and Marinette to escort her from the apartment. Once out the front door, Nino assured her that he could get his fiancé down the stairs and to the car without further assistance. Farewells were exchanged, and Alya plastered a sloppy kiss on the side of Marinette’s cheek when they shared a hug.

“Good luck with the Grand Opening tomorrow night, Marinette.” Nino gave a nod of his head along with the sentiment, because his arms were busy keeping his fiancé under control.

“Good luck catching Chat Noir tomorrow night, Agent Lahiffe,” and Marinette found it nearly impossible to keep the condescending tone out of her voice. Fortunately Nino didn't seem to pick up on it.

The relieved sigh she expelled upon the shut door nearly rivaled the weak feeling in her knees. Inch by inch Marinette slid down the door till she settled on the floor and buried her face against her knees. “I'm going to hell for this.” She shouldn't be feeling relieved that they wouldn't be catching Chat Noir. She shouldn't have felt sick at the thought of them catching him, shouldn't even be trying to protect him.

Marinette bit back the frustration and shame that consumed her, shutting her eyes on the tears that threatened. Tonight, she had to come to terms with the realization that she really didn't want anyone to catch Chat Noir. She also didn't want him to rob her museum or anywhere else for that matter, and at some point she had to accept that she could not have both.

So instead she tried to take solace in the tell-tale feeling of his presence.

Her head shot up with a start, “Chat?”

The ever present hot and cold chill wasn't prickling her spine, not even when she tried to focus it. With the help of her arms she forced herself back on her weak legs and started for the bedroom. There was absolutely no sensation, she felt nothing. Marinette forced the bedroom door open and snapped on the light.

“Chat?”

There wasn't a response, and the blankets and pillows she'd carefully arranged earlier were disturbed. She rushed the bed and knocked the pillows to the floor, a sudden panic creeping through her chest when all she revealed was the bed.

He’s gone. Marinette released a pillow from her grip and it hit the floor with a muffled sound. Of course he’s gone. You had an Interpol agent in your kitchen. He wouldn't trust you after that.

She felt the wet heat of tears threaten the corners of her eyes for a totally different reason, and had to sink her teeth into her bottom lip to stifle the unwelcome emotions. What are you doing, Mari? Losing your head over a thief? She reached out once more, attempting to grasp any sort of tell-tale feeling that he might still be around.

How the hell did he even leave?

A shadow shifted and Marinette physically felt the man who came up behind her; two strong arms encircled her waist, and a broad chest pressed against her back. The scream that caught in her throat came out like a strangled yowl, and she dug her fingernails into the arms that entrapped her. He did not even flinch.

She can’t feel him“You didn't turn me in.” His voice held an ardent quality even though his tone wasn't more than a whisper. “You’ve had every op-purr-tunity.” There was another long pause before he breathed, “why?”

“I-I don't know.”

His voice, as well as his breath in her ear, was making it very hard to concentrate. Not that she had an explanation to give him to begin with. She could feel the messy locks of his blonde hair tickling the side of her cheek. She could also feel the contours of his body pressed tightly against her own, and sent a silent prayer, thanking the heavens, that he was wearing the cotton sleeping pants she’d bought him.

But she still could not feel him. Even right next to her, his body touching her own, she couldn't feel his presence the way she’d grown so comfortably accustomed to. The words were leaving her mouth before she could catch them.

“Why can't I feel you?”

Chat Noir went completely rigid behind her, and the tips of his fingers curled in the material of her blouse. His sharp intake of breath tickled the edge of her ear, distracting her thoughts once more. She noted the way he wobbled, struggling to stay balanced on his right foot, and it only caused him to lean into her more for support.

“Did you want to?” and his voice was a throaty whisper.

It was Marinette’s turn to go rigid. Her limbs suddenly felt numb, while the rest of her body took on a sudden chill. Her own words came crashing back on her like a deep ocean wave.

Oh hell

Chapter Text

Marinette’s POV

Did you want to?”

The way her heart hammered against her rib cage it was a wonder her chest cavity didn’t cave. Of course Chat would misinterpret her words -whether by accident or intentionally- and now he was propositioning her. There was something different about his tone this time, as opposed to his other salacious advances which were always teasing and arrogant, this time he sounded completely serious, almost hopeful.

There was a long moment in which both parties remained speechless. Marinette grappled for something to say, some sort of response to deflect him, and diffuse the misplaced sexual tension. Every traitorous hormone in her body wanted to breathe a desperate, “yes,” then pull him down on the bed with her and....

And watch him writhe in agony while his leg wound opened up again. Marinette suppressed a groan and forced sensibility to the fore front of her mind. There wasn’t anyway this was happening, not with him, not now, not ever. She reminded the traitorous parts of her mind that getting involved with Chat Noir was the worst possible thing she could do.

I’m already aiding and abetting a criminal, I’m not going to stoop so low as to sleep with him.

Fortunately the task of shooting down Chat was handled by none other than the thief himself. She felt him wobble, his breathing becoming ragged about the same time he leaned into her for more support. If her legs hadn’t already been braced to keep her own numb body upright, she might have toppled over from the sudden weight.

“Disregard my words, my lady. That was in poor taste.”

She didn’t believe for a second that it was a joke. Something made Chat retract his previous words. Never-the-less she took it in stride, thanked Lady Luck for granting her mercy, and released a wry laugh.

“You have the worst timed humor, Chat. What were you doing anyway? Do you want to be permanently crippled?” Her hands wrapped around his much larger ones, unwinding his hold on her in favor of slipping a shoulder under his arm to better distribute the weight.

“You took your conversation out the front door, and I wanted to eavesdrop.”

“And did you like what you heard?” Although her tone dripped with sarcasm, she really was curious what he planned to do with this newly acquired information. Marinette guided him back down on the bed, and the movement alone elicited all kinds of agonized noises, his breaths slipping out through gritted teeth.

It took a few seconds for Chat Noir to swallow back the pain and speak again, “That remains to be seen.”

Marinette made an about face at his evasive response and tossed a pillow at him. There was a moment where they both stared each other down, Chat’s expression mirroring her own intense level of scrutiny. The niggling feeling of having seen those eyes before crawled back to the forefront, attempting to piece together why he seemed so familiar. She was searching his eyes for answers just as much as he, and it was only broken when Chat jerked his face away and inquired about food.

It gave her a good excuse to leave the room and collect her frazzled nerves and muddled emotions. Under normal circumstances she found cooking far from soothing, but tonight was a welcome exception. It was an escape from a situation she had such a precarious grasp on. While in the kitchen, she put the stopper on the bottle Alya had brought over, and cleaned the spilled wine off the floor and counter top. The temptation to drink was offset only by the uncomfortable churning in her stomach.

Once again Chat wouldn’t eat in front of her, opting to push the food around his plate instead. Any questions about his peculiar eating habits were met with silence. She eventually gave up in favor of changing his bandages, and had to order him to stay in bed rather than moving to the bathroom.

All the while she strained her senses; pushing her aberrant sixth sense to its limits in hopes of catching just a trace of his presence. He wasn’t even a blip on her radar. It was like someone had crawled inside her mind and shut off the Chat switch. No amount of memory reminiscing, or thoughts about him, garnered anything more than unwelcome desire and subsequent shame.

It was driving her insane. Was it him? Had he figured some way to block her out? Or was it her? Had something caused a malfunction in her powers? If that’s what she could even call them. That’s what he called them.

An hour later she returned to the bedroom to find Chat had eaten, and was brushing his teeth using the glass of water kept on the nightstand and the tooth brush and paste she’d purchased for him along with the clothes. Marinette took his plate, waited for him to finish with his teeth, and took the glass as well. She returned minutes later with a fresh glass of water, and placed it on the nightstand mechanically, still lost in her own thoughts.

“Thank you.”

Her head snapped up to stare at the masked man. For some reason his smile was somber, sincere but lacking warmth, a stark contrast to his usual flirtatious grins.

“Not just for the water,” he added, nodding towards the glass on the nightstand. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” While he spoke there was a chill that crept over her skin.

Marinette stopped listening to him, focusing instead on a prickling sensation, and grasping onto it. It started off like the feeling of one icy ant skittering down her neck, but was soon followed by a cascade of chills akin to the feeling she got when her legs fell asleep.

She staggered from the sudden onslaught, and felt herself drown in the feeling. So cold at first before becoming a fiery rush, suffocating and satisfying in the same shaky breath. The gasp that left her throat went unheard, and she wasn’t even aware when her knees hit the floor next to the bed. Marinette didn’t realize she missed the feeling until it completely overwhelmed her.

As much as she loathed what it meant, his presence had become some perverse source of comfort.

“Marinette?” Chat was calling her name, and his voice sounded concerned.

He never said her name. That should have been important, but at the moment she couldn’t bring herself to care.

The tips of his fingers brushed against her cheek, hesitant before retracting and settling on her shoulder instead. The burn of his touch snapped her out of the haze she’d been lost in. Marinette recoiled from him, knocking his hand aside and staggering back to her feet. When she stole a look at his face, it was sporting a mix of fear and concern.

“I’m f-fine,” she barely managed to force the words out. “Just tired.” His presence continued to wash over her while she fetched her night clothes from the dresser, and stalked out of the room. Marinette left him gaping in confusion, and only in the absence of Chat’s stare did the overwhelming quality of the feeling diminish.

Distractions continued to plague her mind while she showered; thankfully after the initial onslaught, the sensations simmered down to a bearable level. It became a pleasant hum -almost- when she settled on the couch to relax, but her thoughts were not her own. The buzz of the tv served as a pathetic diversion, and Marinette ended up falling asleep indulging in the burn and chill that was distinctly Chat Noir. It was a guilty pleasure that felt nearly as sinful as if she fell asleep in his embrace.

00000

“Where are you going?” At some point Monday morning, probably while he took a bath, Chat put his contacts back in. He was now following her around the room with his toxic green stare, slit pupils startlingly intense. It was starting to make Marinette feel underdressed, moving about in her sleeping pants, and a simple black camisole.

“The Grand Opening for my exhibit is tonight, and I need to be there early to finish preparations with my boss.” She busied her hands flipping through her dresses to find something suitable to wear. There were already a few possible options tossed over the bed, offending Chat’s foot space.

“Alas, Purrincess,” he began in a theatrical tone, “I regret that I will be unable to attend the event.”

“Oh pity,” Marinette snarked back, not evening bothering to tear her attention from the closet.

Chat Noir continued as if she hadn’t said anything, “I hope you will not bemoan my absence. It would have been thrilling to accompany you.”

“As generous as I’m sure that offer would be,” she drawled, hoping her sarcasm was so sharp he felt it stab right into his handsome face, “I already have a date tonight.” She pulled a black dress from the closet, and held it against her chest. It was small, strapless, sinfully short, and completely inappropriate for an event at the museum, but it caught Chat’s attention.

He narrowed his eyes and his voice took on a deadly chill, “And who might that be?”

Marinette feigned consideration towards the dress, and pulled the hair away from her bare shoulders, stopping to admire herself in the floor mirror. “As if I’d tell you, alley cat.” She could see Chat Noir set his jaw in the reflection.

His posture relaxed a bit when she tossed the skimpy black dress aside, and Marinette had to hide a smirk. Eventually she decided on a bronze and earth toned two-piece dress; a high necked beaded bodice decorated with an intricate pattern, and the skirt was a-lined, long, with a delicate earth-toned tulle, over pale cream satin. It was perfect considering the theme of her exhibit.

Marinette swept out of the room with the dress before Chat could get a good look. She returned about ten minutes later wearing it, her fingers fiddling nervously with the beaded waist just under the exposed skin of her stomach.

There was a sharp intake of breath and her eyes flickered to the thief settled on her bed. He was letting a controlled exhale escape his nose, regarding her with eyes that were shades darker than she remembered.

Mon Dieu...” he rasped, and it was so quiet she almost missed it.

Regardless, it made her self-esteem sizzle. “How do I look?” She shot him what she hoped was a flirty smile under half-lidded eyes, making a turn so he could see the back as well.

The open admiration on his features dissolved into a reproachful look, his fingers making clenched fists in the sheets. If he actually had cat ears, she imagined they would’ve been folded back at this point.

“I’ll take your silence as a compliment.”

“Your date tonight will be very lucky.” He whispered in a subdued way, and when he smiled it never reached his eyes.

Marinette released a chuckle and stalked across the room to find a matching set of shoes in the closet. “This isn’t to impress my date,” she corrected. “I need to look nice for my job. This event is important to me, Chat Noir.”

She sat on the edge of the bed, next to Chat, to slip on a pair of bronze-colored heels, every nerve in her body acutely aware of how close she was to the cat burglar. There was a tingling sensation that skittered over her spine that she could only assume was caused by his gaze.

The zipper at the back was left purposely half done, so it wasn’t a surprise when she felt his fingertips graze the skin at the middle of her back. Regardless her breath hitched, and her own hands fumbled with the small buckles on the heels. Whether or not he was intentionally taking his time, or that time had slowed down, Marinette could count each click of the zipper as it moved up her back. He lingered over the back of her neck for only a moment before snatching his hands back.

Eres divina,” Chat’s voice took on a throaty quality once more as he flaunted his multilingual tongue.

“And what does that mean?” She cocked her head to glimpse him from the corner of her eye.

Chat Noir brought a hand to the back of his neck, toying with the shorter blonde hair, and averted his gaze. “Nothing,” he breathed. “I simply envy your job.”

“Afraid I might bring my work home with me?”

“More that you might go home with it.”

She turned to face him, crossing her ankles under the tulle skirt. She shouldn’t have felt so bold, but the temptation to push this farther was too sweet to pass up. “Why would I do that when I already have a cat in my bed?”

His startled expression was worth it, there was something so satisfying about seeing his eyes go wide, and jaw go slack. Chat took a moment to swallow, and his tongue swiped his bottom lip just before he spoke, “n-now, you’re just being a tease.”

She leaned in close, reveling in the situation and whispered, “no more than you.” When Chat stared at her, rendered speechless, the corners of her mouth turned up in a victory smirk. She felt her skin heat up at her own audacity and decided it was time to back off. “I need to finish getting ready. Stay out of trouble while I’m gone.”

0000

The Grand Opening Monday evening was an exclusive event. The exhibit would not be opening to the public till the following day. The night’s event was by invitation only, meant for the sponsors, and more influential people: artists and collectors associated with the museum.

The Opening was a complete success. Catering in the event halls, a splendid attendance, and the museum even picked up a few more sponsors. Tikki landed a show with a distinguished jewel collector by the name of Bannister, and plans were underway for a new exhibit featuring his collection of precious stones.

Interpol and PP agents were thick at the event, but somehow managed to blend almost seamlessly into the crowd. They were posed as guests, with elaborate names and backgrounds, dressed to the nines in formal attire to the point where Marinette could hardly tell they were agents if she weren’t already informed they would be present. Nino Lahiffe was there with Alya, using his musical background as a cover, claiming he was only in attendance because Alya was invited. In turn, Alya was covering the event as a journalist, though Marinette would have invited her even if it weren’t for professional connections.

When Nathaniel arrived he was given a rough time at the entrance because he lacked an invitation. Luckily Marinette was able to intercept him, and explained to security that he was her date. The professor looked uncomfortable while a temporary pass was made for him, and Marinette apologized profusely for his name not being on the list. She didn’t tell him it was because she’d spent ninety percent of the day too distracted.

It was Marinette and Tikki’s job to greet guests and explain the exhibit to curious minds. Nathaniel, albeit quiet, was actually at home in the setting, able to converse fine arts and antiquities eruditely. It wasn’t until late in the evening, when the both of them were able to step away from the crowds, that they got a chance to converse as friends.

“Thank you for coming tonight.”

Nathaniel joined Marinette next to a marble pillar located near a maintenance door. It was in a hall away from the crowded west wing where the Egyptian exhibit was located. People still milled about, passing through to reach the other wings of the museum, but it was quieter, which suited both the curator and her date just fine. The significance of the location was lost on Nathaniel, but Marinette found it somehow... soothing.

“I thought those guards might escort me off the premises.”

“I’m really sorry about that.” She’d lost count how many times she apologized.

“It’s ok, Marinette. I know you’ve been busy.” He smiled at her, a shy smile, but there was mirth in his eyes.

Felix, looking slick in formal attire despite his small stature and round body, strolled right past them. He was chatting away with someone on his phone, and stopped when he came within earshot of Marinette and Nathaniel. He held his tiny hand over the mic and and shot the curator and her date one of those smiles. The smiles he usually sported, that looked as if he were taking part in a joke no one else was privy to. She’d gotten used to them by this point.

Against the will of her wine fancy, Marinette nursed a glass of water, while Nathaniel sipped from a glass of burgundy. She wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol tonight because technically she was working, but she was two seconds from snatching a sip from Nathaniel’s glass when no one was looking. However, the responsible bone in her body patiently reminded her that work was more important, and that she had to drive herself home tonight.

Still, the temptation was present. If Chloe Bourgeois hadn’t chosen that precise moment to stalk up to them, Marinette might have made a swipe for the wine.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng,” Chloe greeted... harshly. She eyed the curator up and down before turning her nose off to the side.

“Miss Bourgeois,” Marinette returned the greeting but in a softer tone. She couldn’t help but finger the gold bangles on her wrists, and immediately felt self conscious about her appearance.

Chloe was clothed in a long blue sweeping evening gown, strapless, with expensive diamond earrings, and an elaborate diamond neck piece. She could’ve been a piece from the renowned Bannister collection the way she sparkled tonight. Her hair was even flowing over her shoulders in gorgeous blonde curls that only accentuated her bright sapphire eyes.

Marinette, clothed in bronze and earthy tones with cheap gold-plated jewelry, felt humbled beside the Mayor’s daughter.

Chloe dragged her eyes over to Nathaniel who had gone characteristically quiet in the presence of someone new. “Who is this?”

“This is my friend, Nathaniel Kurtzburg.” Explained Marinette, giving up nervously fiddling with her wrist bangles in favor of playing with her earrings. “He’s a fine arts professor. Nath, this is one of our sponsors, Miss Chloe Bourgeois.”

Nathaniel continued to remain speechless and merely held out his hand to the blonde woman. The way he dipped his head, caused his red hair to obscure part of his face, which Marinette could only assume was a defense mechanism for him. Long hair giving him something to hide behind. Chloe eyed his hand under a quirked brow before wrinkling her nose and keeping her own hands held to her chest. Eventually Nathaniel got the clue that Chloe was not the handshaking type, and snatched his back.

“A fine arts professor? You wouldn’t happen to know anything about Raphael paintings, would you?”

Nathaniel shifted uncomfortably, “M-my forte is modern art, but I’m versed in art history as well.”

“Splendid.” Chloe’s whole face brightened, and took the friendly quality of someone who clearly wanted something. Her eyes raked over the Professor with new consideration. “I recently purchased a painting from an auction, and I wish to have it authenticated. Marinette will set you up with my contact information. The weekend shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

“Actually I don’t usually...” Nathaniel started, but Chloe narrowed her eyes like a viper and he swallowed back his words. “I-I mean... sure.”

“Good, and wear something nice.”

The Professor shot both ladies a look of bewilderment, unable to bridge the connection between appraising a painting and wearing nice clothes. Marinette only raised her eyebrows when Nath’s questioning eyes sought her own for answers.

“You have such convenient little friends.” Chloe was speaking to Marinette once more.

“Thank you...?” She wasn’t sure if the blonde was paying her a true compliment or not. The words sounded like a double-edged sword.

“Speaking of friends, has anyone seen Adrikins? He’s supposed to be here tonight. I heard he’s sponsoring this ancient drivel as well.” She waved her hand in the direction of the Egyptian exhibit.

“He actually sponsored the whole museum.” Corrected Marinette, before she realized that was out of line and snapped her mouth shut. It was not her business to spout how their sponsors spent their money. Especially to Chloe who might take offense, and see it as Adrien Agreste one-upping her. It seemed like a Chloe way to react, at least to Marinette.

“I’m not surprised. Adrikins has always been a big bleeding heart of generosity.” For a brief flickering moment, Chloe’s expression softened and she almost smiled. Then the bitchy persona fell back into place with a vengeance. “So where is he?”

“I’m afraid Mr. Agreste isn’t in attendance tonight.” Supplied Marinette. The last time she checked the guest list, (making a mental note of who she’d greeted, and who she hadn’t) she’d noted that Adrien Agreste was absent. That had been an hour ago, but Marinette was sure she would’ve spotted his famous face and striking blonde hair, had he been present since. He was sorta like a Statue of David in a room full of terra-cotta soldiers.

He stood out. She should just say he stood out.

Chloe was making a perturbed expression, it fit right in on her lovely face, which excelled at making ugly expressions. “That’s not like him. His Father even said he took a vacation, so his schedule is clean.” The blonde diva fished a cell phone from her purse and stalked off on a mission. She must have received an immediate voicemail because she tore the phone away from her ear seconds later to scream quietly at it.

When Miss Bourgeois was well out of hearing range, Nathaniel finally decided to speak up. “He’s probably just busy.”

Marinette whipped her head around to look at her date. She had to admit she was more than a little surprised that Nath was defending him like that.

The copper-haired man smiled sheepishly and scratched the side of his neck, “he really wanted to be here tonight.”

“Adrien. Adrien Agreste?”

“Yeah.” Nathaniel slowly exhaled. “He’s sorta a friend of mine.”

Now Marrinette was thoroughly surprised. She wasn’t aware Nathaniel and Adrien were friends, much less that they even knew each other. “Wow, how’d that happen?” There had to be some interesting tale that brought both males into acquaintance.

“Uh...” Nathaniel faltered, left hand stroking the soul patch on his chin in a practiced gesture. “Turns out we have some things in common.”

Far be it of Marinette to drag an interesting story out of the introverted man. There was a long silence where neither of them talked before Nathaniel spoke up once more.

“He thinks you don’t like him very much.” The words must have been resting on the professor’s tongue for quite some time because they tumbled over each other on the way out of his mouth.

“I hardly even know him.” She confessed, a little confused where this was coming from.

“He wants to know you- I mean- fuck.” Nathaniel’s cheeks flushed a scarlet color and he hid behind his hair, his hands were clutching his now empty wine glass so hard that it was a wonder it didn’t shatter. “I mean, not fuck! Don’t take that the wrong way. I was just cursing. What I mean is, Adrien wants to get to know you. He just doesn’t know what to say around you, and he thinks you hate him...” The man next to her was fretting and his words had trailed off in a whisper.

“I suppose I haven’t given him a chance. If he thinks I hate him it’s no wonder Chloe was mad at me for how I treated him at her fundraiser.” She made a face at her half-empty water glass. The water was refracting the pattern of the floor tiles, and she chose to focus on that rather than look at the man next to her. “I just don’t understand why he would take an interest in boring old me.”

“You aren’t boring, Marinette.” Nathaniel was quick to refute her words. “You’re kind, and smart, and pretty.”

The curator’s head shot up, eyes wide and cheeks burning from the flattery. Her heart thumped painfully hearing such nice things, even from someone who was just a friend.

“T-tomorrow night,” started Nathaniel, fumbling over his words, and hiding a furious blush of his own. “A-Adrien and I are hanging out at a pub. We’d love it if you’d join us.”

The dark clouds of doubt and reservation began to settle in Marinette’s mind, and she swirled the neglected water around, dropping her eyes back to the glass. “I don’t know...”

“I’m not trying to set you up or anything.” He clarified, sensing her suspicions. “J-just friends.”

“I’ll think about it.”

They fell into a comfortable silence after that. Eventually Nathanial excused himself to refill his wine glass. When he didn’t return, Marinette assumed he got hung up in conversation and made to go find Lila instead. She’d promised Max she would at the very least attempt a conversation with the Italian woman.

There was something both relaxing and disappointing about navigating the maze-like halls of the museum, and its various rooms, and not feeling even an inkling of Chat Noir. She knew it was foolish thinking about him so often, developing some misplaced attachment to his presence, and taking pleasure in their brief associations. She had to be the stupidest woman in the whole of Paris. Chat Noir, the international art thief, who procured a place on Interpol’s most wanted list. A man who’s insatiable flirting was doubtful to be a genuine interest in her, and most likely a ploy to glean something from her, despite his claim stating otherwise. A man who’s entire motivation was to lift a priceless cat artifact from the exhibit she’d poured a whole season’s work into, and who no doubt intended to disappear as suddenly as he appeared as soon as he got said artifact.

Dammit. You should be landing his ass behind bars, not counting the hours till you can ditch this party and run home to check up on him.

Lila Rossi was eventually spotted making conversation with an artsy type. The man she was conversing with was brown-haired with a man bun, and a trimmed soul patch under his lip. He looked nice in his simple suit and from the way he smiled, Lila must’ve been flirting up a storm. Which wasn’t at all unusual for the Italian vixen.

The petty part of Marinette simply hummed at the opportunity to encroach on Lila’s business.

“Good evening!” The curator swept up to the couple, beaming a false smile from ear to ear. She directed her look to Lila first, “Miss Rossi, I can’t thank you enough for all your hard work in making this exhibit possible.”

Lila looked absolutely vexed by the sudden intrusion of her boss. The corner of her eye twitched and her mouth formed into a thin hard line, “Marinette,” she growled back.

Marinette ignored Lila’s piss-ass mood and turned to greet the artsy man. “Hello, I’m the curator of this exhibit, Marinette Dupain-Cheng. I’m making rounds to thank all the guests for attending our Grand Opening tonight.”

The man gave her a polite shake of the hand, “I’m Théo Barbot, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Dupain-Cheng.” When he smiled at her there was something else alight behind his eyes rather than amiable curiosity. “Miss Rossi was just telling me all about the work everyone poured in to make this exhibit possible. It’s simply breathtaking,”

“It never would have been possible without Lila,” and when Marinette smiled at her it was both sincere and snide. “There was a mishap when the scepter of Tutankhamun was shipped, and if it weren’t for Lila we never would’ve gotten it fixed in time.”

The conservator chuckled dryly, “you flatter me Marinette. I was just doing my job.”

“I’m blessed to make the acquaintance of two very talented ladies.” Remarked Théo. “You’ll have to excuse my abrupt departure, but I have some business to attend to.”

“No, please excuse us, Mr. Barbot,” and Marinette couldn’t quite contain the rush of triumph, having successfully chased off Lila’s prey.

“Please accept my card,” he asserted, rummaging in his suit pocket and producing two crisp business cards, “I’m an artist as well as art preparator, if your museum ever needs a hand with proper packing and transporting, give us a call. You won’t be disappointed.” He ended his little pitch with a practiced but charming smile directed at both ladies, then placed the cards in their hands. Théo departed with a polite farewell and melted into the crowd, leaving Marinette with a fuming Lila to deal with.

“What the hell was that about?” Snarled the conservator.

“I wanted to have a word with you,” Marinette continued to smile sweetly. “I didn’t interrupt anything did I?” That’s right Lila, you will talk to me and stop avoiding me, or I will ruin every opportunity for you tonight. The curator’s sickeningly sweet smile was not meant to hide her vindictive agenda, it was a warning.

Thankfully Lila was smart enough to pick up on the clues; there were several moments where both woman glared at each other, before the conservator relented. “This is about Max, isn’t it?” Despite the obvious animosity in the air Lila sounded more despondent than indignant. Her chin dropped, and her eyes were tracing patterns on the tiles near her feet.

“What do you think?” Marinette almost took a sip of her water glass, but remembered it was water and wrinkled her nose at it instead.

“I don’t like him.”

“Ok.”

Lila’s head shot up, and she fixed her boss with an incredulous look. “Ok? Just... ok? No speech? No, give Max another chance?” Clearly the vixen was not expecting this conversation to go so blasé.

“I can’t make you like him,” deadpanned Marinette, “frankly I’m just surprised you gave him a chance in the first place. I promised I’d ask what was up, because I’m his friend, and he asked.” She drummed her fingers against the glass and shrugged her freckled shoulders. “If I’m to be honest, he should be hearing this from you, and not second hand from me.” With that she gave the conservator a wry smile and turned to leave.

Her heel only clicked once before a tanned hand grasped her wrist and stopped her.

“Don’t tell Max that.”

Marrinette whirled to face her again, “why?”

“....” Lila wasn’t looking at her, she was tracing the floor tiles again and biting the inside of her cheek, if the way her jaw trembled was anything to go by. “Because I do like Max. He just...”

Marinette waited patiently for the other woman to continue. Guests milled about around them, but none were interested in the hushed conversation between the two museum employees. She noted Felix on his phone for the second time that night. He was off on his own, looking bored as hell while chatting with someone via the cell.

“He brought up the subject of children on our third date.” Confessed Lila, and her cheeks took on a rosy hue.

“...oh.” Yup, that sounded like Max, and it also made Marinette’s chest swell with sympathy for the woman in front of her. “What about children?”

“Nothing about having any, thank god.” And the sigh Lila let out was accompanied by a deep eye roll. “He wanted to know my thoughts on raising children and parenting opinions, and Mari I just got overwhelmed. I thought things were moving way too fast.”

Marinette found herself patting Lila’s shoulder in a sympathetic way, before she snatched her hand away. “Max... he’s a very technical man. He gets his relationship advice from essays and documentaries. Regrettably one of those essays said that you should know by your third date the parenting habits of your love interest.” She remembered that one, Max shared it with her thinking she might benefit from the advice. Marinette didn’t find it quite as informative, or value the information more than a grain of salt.

“So he’s not actually looking to have kids?”

“No.” Stated Marinette, and this time she smiled with amusement. “I don’t think he’s even ready to get married. Besides, his essays explicitly state you should date for more than two years before even considering it.”

“I didn’t realize he was so...” Lila trailed off unable to find the right words to describe what she thought about Max.

“Right. Well, I already said I’m not here to convince you to give him another chance. You need to decide if you’re interested in him, and if not, tell him that yourself.”

Lila didn’t respond to that. She had a pensive look and appeared to be lost in her own thoughts, so Marinette decided it was time to take her leave. She left the conservator to chew on the Max situation, and decided to check the guest list one more time. There was only one more hour that Marinette was required before the Grand Opening officially ended. If she could finish greeting all the guests, there might be a chance she could slip out early without anyone taking notice of her absence.

The evening concluded with Marinette dragging Nathaniel away to inform him she was sneaking off.

“You’re welcome to stick around the event,” she cast a glance at the busier parts of the museum on the other side of the lobby, “but I’m exhausted and I really just want to go home.”

“My date is ditching me for a hot night with her pillows, should I be insulted?” He snickered and looked embarrassed by his own joke.

“You knew this was how the evening would conclude when I invited you,” Marinette gave him a playful shove with her shoulder, “if anyone caught your eye tonight, don’t let me hold you back.”

She was about to take off when Nath grabbed her wrist to get her attention once more. “D-Drive safe, and the offer to hang out with Adrien and I still stands. You could probably use a night off, and have some drinks, after all the work you’ve put in for this exhibit.”

“Thank you.” She whispered, amused at how Nathaniel’s flushed cheeks clashed against the copper tones of his hair. It took Marinette straining on her tippy toes, and she even had to hop a little, but she placed a chaste kiss on Nath’s cheek. He stood there, red-faced and startled, as she bid him farewell and snuck out of the lobby when no one else was looking.

0000

Chat Noir’s POV

Marinette was furious with him.

It was Tuesday evening and she was also out getting drunk with a couple of guys that she refused to disclose the names of.

When Marinette returned home Monday night after the conclusion of the exhibit Grand Opening, Chat stupidly confronted her in a fit of jealousy. In hind sight he should’ve known better than to listen to Plagg, the little bastard was trying to sabotage any chances he had with the curator to begin with. When Plagg told him that Marinette kissed her date goodnight it caused his blood to flow like magma beneath his own skin.

He couldn’t even remember how it all went down. One minute he was riled up and acting like a possessive jerk, the next she was putting him in his place, making it clear she belonged to no one and that he had no business coping an attitude with her. Then proceeded to explain that she could kiss whomever she pleased, and that he needed to get a better informant because she kissed her date on the cheek.

Chat could only watch her in stunned silence, feeling like the biggest ass in the whole God damned world.

After that she called up her date, and made plans to go out drinking with him and another guy the very next night.

It was spiteful, and he knew why she did it.

And it still worked.

The digital clock on the nightstand blinked a lazy 10:27pm. Only three minutes had passed since the last time he checked. Marinette was still out, and Chat would be lying if he said it didn’t bother him. Part of him was irritated that she was off drinking with a couple of guys, and part of him just wanted to apologize to her.

After their initial argument he chose not to speak to her, not when she brought him food, nor when she changed the bandages on his leg. It was juvenile, but part of him was still pissed off, and he didn’t want to speak in case he said something he couldn’t take back.

Or let slip something more vulnerable than he liked.

The front door opened with a startling bang, hitting the wall, and Chat Noir had to suppress the leap of excitement his heart made, reminding himself that they were still quarreling. Silence settled on the apartment after the front door closed. An odd felling washed over him when he didn’t hear the rustle of her shoes being removed nor the clink of car keys hitting a counter top. Not for the first time he cursed his injured leg, and that it forced him to remain crippled in a bed. Even if it was her bed.

The click of her shoes against the floor sounded in the hall, the short time between each step informing him she was practically running. Marinette, clothed in the low cut blouse and skinny jeans she’d worn out, threw open the bedroom door with a panicked look. Her eyes swept the room till they found his, and she looked as if she expected him to be gone. Chat was confused by the intensity of that look, and when it dissolved into tears his heart sank into the depths of his own stomach.

Marinette stalked off, back down the hall, and the couch creaking in the living room signified that she had taken a seat.

Something wasn’t right.

The pain was nearly blinding, breath by ragged breath he forced himself up from the bed, snatched a fleece blanket, and started for the living room. He had to find out why she was crying, or at the very least, comfort her till she stopped. Chat Noir staggered from the room, dragging his left leg, and digging his fingers into the walls and anything that could support his weight. It was a slow process, teeth clenched as his breaths spilled out noisier than he would have liked.

He paused half way down the hall to fiddle with the thermostat. She was sure to be pissed at him when she found out, but no one ever said he was a perfect gentleman. He had a reputation to live up to after all.

“How are you doing that?”

Chat stopped at the threshold to the living room and braced himself against the walls. “Doing what?” When she didn’t reply he limped his way across the room and settled on the opposite end of the couch.

Marrinette wasn’t looking at him anymore, she had her feet curled beneath her, the rest of her body draped over the arm of the couch while she stared at the floor. He’d never seen her so... defeated.

The tv, set to a low volume on a movie he couldn’t even begin to name, served as a convenient distraction. Something to break the silence, and with any luck begin to ease Marinette out of the miasma of negativity she’d cloaked herself in.

Chat propped his leg on a worn out ottoman that had seen better days, and did his best to suppress the mewl of pain from the action. He settled back against the couch and resigned himself to wait patiently, swallowing his own jealousy in favor of comforting the woman next to him.

“I’m sorry.” He whispered and felt his heart wrench in pain when she flinched and buried her face in her arms.

An hour passed and he only knew that because the movie on the tv (which had been a third of the way through when they started watching it) ended and a new movie began. He paid even less attention to the new film. Instead he turned his attention back to Marinette, her eyes were closed like she was asleep but he knew better. Chat could tell by the way she breathed, and her subtle twitches that she was very much awake, and it wasn’t until he saw her shiver that he finally decided to speak again.

“I brought you a blanket.” He tossed half of the queen-sized fleece throw over her legs and gave her a gentle tilt of his head when she looked up at him. Her eyes trailed down his bare chest and over the fleece, staring at it for a long moment before grabbing the corner and tugging it farther up her body. Chat smiled in triumph. “Alas, this blanket comes with a stray cat.”

It was a small victory when the corner of her mouth twitched.

“I accept full responsibility for my earlier actions, Purrincess. I... I was out of line.” He ran a hand through the blonde hair on the back of his neck, a gesture he adopted whenever he was nervous or embarrassed. “I get foolish when I’m around you.”

“I’m not mad at you anymore, Chat Noir.” She murmured, resting her head back against the arm of the couch.

“May I inquire what has upset you?” He wanted so badly to reach a hand out and touch her.

She let out a long sigh and looked to be contemplating whether she should tell a notorious criminal why she was upset. “My friend invited me out for drinks and music tonight at a local pub. There were supposed to be three of us but his friend flaked on him. I spent the whole evening feeling bad because it was awkward with just the two of us, and my friend felt awful because the evening fell through.”

Chat suddenly had a very bad feeling. “Was this date of yours that Professor man you brought to the museum weeks ago?”

Marinette looked as if she didn’t want to answer that question, but eventually nodded.

Fuck.

Everything suddenly clicked into place in his mind. Marinette had brought a friend to the Grand Opening rather than a romantic interest, and Nathaniel had played the role of wingman inviting Marinette to join him and Adrien for drinks on Tuesday. The same Tuesday Adrien had made plans for, and subsequently neglected because he’d been shot and forgot to cancel.

He was the friend who flaked.

Chat never felt so thankful that his identity was obscured tonight. He wasn’t quite ready to own up to yet one more fuck-up.

“I-is that why you looked so upset when you got home?” Somehow he couldn’t quite connect her teary-eyed expression and searching eyes with the disappointment at the pub.

“No.” She murmured and brought her knees up to her chest, resting her chin against the skinny jeans she’d worn out that night. “When I came home... I thought you left.” She finished the last part in barely a whisper.

His mind wandered back to Sunday night. It was the same searching expression.

“Why can’t I feel you?”

She’d been referring to her powers then and he’d stupidly mistaken it for something else.

“You aren’t feline my presence?”

She kicked him so hard in the hip it jostled his leg, and Chat hissed in pain.

“Shut up.” But when she buried her face against her knees it was to hide the smile that threatened her features.

He grinned at her, relieved to finally push past the negative feelings from before.

Marinette was the one who spoke up this time, “what did you mean when you said, I get foolish when I’m around you?

“I...” Chat started, but his blood felt hot. I’m stupidly attached to you, to the point I make foolish decisions. At first I wanted to sleep with you, but now I won’t be satisfied until I have your affection, just as you have somehow gotten mine. He swallowed and it was so painful. “Let’s say I’ve become interested in more than just a Bastet statue, and it’s compromising my judgement.”

He averted his gaze from her so he didn’t have to see the look on her face. He was setting himself up for disappointment, putting himself in a vulnerable position and he hated it. Chat wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish, even if she fell for him their relationship would be fleeting. He couldn’t stay in Paris, and although delayed, he was still going to rob her exhibit. She knew it, he knew it, it was inevitable. He was putting her life and career in jeopardy all because of some selfish infatuation.

The couch shifted next to him, prompting Chat to jerk his head up, just as her hand pressed against his right leg.

“That’s the straightest answer you’ve ever given me.”

She was so close, staring at him with those gorgeous blue eyes, smiling half a sinfully sweet smile. He felt his heart pick up in pace. His willpower put to the test just to keep his hands from moving, just to keep himself from leaning into her so he could feel her breath across his skin.

“Don’t fool yourself, Purrincess, that answer was still crooked as hell,” he breathed.

Marinette laughed at that, a genuine laugh, light and beautiful. She closed the distance between them, and Chat snapped his eyes shut willing every bone in his body to be still. When her lips brushed the skin on his cheek, just below the edge of his mask, it felt like she burned him. The scent of alcohol lingered on her skin, mixing with the minty smell of her hair. He felt her pull away all too soon, and cursed himself when he opened his eyes and she still was inches from his nose.

“Thank you, Chaton.” She was smiling at him, and the blue of her eyes was darker than he remembered. “I’m feeling better.”

“It was my pleasure.” His hand reached up and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear before he could stop himself, heart stuttering for several beats when Marinette leaned into his touch. Against his better judgement he let his fingers trail along the skin at her jaw, thumb ghosting over her bottom lip before he retracted his hand. “If only to make you smile,” and he held her half-lidded stare, hoping to convey the sincerity of his statement,

Seconds later Marinette gasped as if the air were ripped from her lungs. Her hand resting on his right leg suddenly gripped him so hard it was painful. When she tried to suck in another breath it caught, and she made a choking sound. There was a split second in which fear surged through him and he thought she was in pain, until both her hands shot up and she grabbed the sides of his face, dragging him down.

Chat Noir’s mind ceased coherent thought the moment she kissed him. It was sudden, and painful, ...and raw. He had absolutely no idea what came over her. It took all of five seconds, and the tilting of her head, for his willpower to crumble and he was kissing her back. His mouth moving with hers, his desire bleeding into the action until it was just as desperate.

Her fingers trailed from the sides of his unshaven face, until they buried in his blonde hair, tangling when she made fists. The feeling tore a growl from his throat. His own hands finding their way to her hips, slipping under her shirt to curl against the bare skin. It was a gesture meant to hold her still as much as it was to pull her closer. In that moment, Chat would have said, earnestly and honestly, that he needed the contact of his hands on her hips and his lips on her own as much as he needed the breath she somehow stole from his lungs.

When she paused to take a shuddering breath he managed to rip his mouth away, a pathetic attempt to control the situation. “T-this is wrong,” he started, and his voice was throaty; still laced with every aching need to pin her down and pull a moan from her own throat.

“I don’t care.” Her breaths were spilling over his jaw and it was doing awful things to his self control.

“I m-may not be a murderous fiend, Chérie, but I’m still... a known felon. I’m still dangerous,” He rasped, struggling to get the words out in the same moment he caught his breath.

Marinette’s response sent arcs down his spine, akin to electricity. “I know.” She was looking at him with irises as dark as a storm under half-lidded eyes.

Chat forgot why he was holding back.

I know.

Those two words tore him apart until his throat ached.

She knew this was everything that shouldn’t happen, and she didn’t care. She knew exactly what he was, and his every intention and she didn’t care.

Well nobody could say he didn’t try to stop this.

Chat pulled her down to kiss her again. He raked his left hand over her back, up her shoulder and neck, before threading in her gorgeous black hair. His right hand slid down her hip and curled over her backside until he pulled a moan from her throat. The noise spilled into his own mouth and was only muffled when he slipped his tongue past her lips. Her fingers in his hair pulled him painfully closer and their kiss so much deeper.

His teeth scraped against hers, just as his nails dug against the seams of her frustratingly tight jeans. His air becoming hers until neither of them took a breath without feeling the other in their lungs. When it became suffocating, Chat broke the kiss to trail his lips down her neck. He placed a kiss between every ragged breath he took, tracing the line of her throat to the nape of her neck.

Marinette’s breaths were equally labored when she tilted her head to the side. “I-I can feel you... again.”

“Is that why you kissed me?” He hummed against her skin, his nose and the tip of his mask brushing her shoulder. He could still feel her in his veins with every racing beat of his heart.

“It was definitely a contributing factor.”

Her fingers released their deadly grip on his hair and slipped over his shoulders until her hands splayed over his bare chest. There was a slight pressure against him, enough to prompt Chat to back off a bit. He took the hint and reluctantly removed his hand from her hair, and the other from her backside. They settled on her hips again instead, fingers too greedy to cease touching her completely.

“This has to stop before I hurt you.” Marinette murmured, and he knew she was referring to his leg.

Chat drew in a shuddering breath, picking up the pieces of his shattered resolve bit by bit. It was like trying to rebuild from grains of sand. “You needn’t be so concerned, my lady. I am quite formidable.” The playful wink he shot her was accompanied by a sultry grin.

As much as he wanted things to continue in the direction they had been going, and he really wanted things to continue, it was important that she be the one to come to him.

His attempt to stand was thwarted and Chat about doubled over from the pain, barely catching himself on the edge of the couch. Marrinette was on her feet, and at his side in an instant, her shoulder wedged under his arm to support his weight. Against his better judgement he leaned into her, fingers itching to touch her again, but ultimately digging into his palms.

Step by agonizingly slow torturous step, she carried him to the bedroom.

“You know, I bought you shirts to wear for a reason.”

“I know,” he managed between breaths. “It’s because... you can’t stop your eyes... from memorizing my.. body.” He finished the sentence just as they reached the bed and she dumped him on it. There wasn’t even a trace of remorse when he gasped in pain and clutched the bullet wound.

“Have you eaten?”

Chat bared his teeth, “before you came home.”

He noted the way she lingered next to the bed, eyes darting from him to insignificant locations in the room and back again. Before she could object he snatched her hand and pulled her down onto the bed next to him. The cute way she bounced from the impact, coupled with the startled wide-eyed expression sent thrills through his veins once more, even while he cringed from the jostling.

“If you wanted to lay next to me, all you had to do was ask.” He accepted that the devil was busy polishing his room in hell right then.

“I’m not going to sleep with you, Chat Noir. So you can stop trying.”

“That depends entirely on your definition of sleep, my lady.”

Marinette rolled on her side to face him. He felt better with his contacts in, knowing she couldn’t recognize his eyes behind the slitted cat pupils, and green sclera. The inevitable ache in the morning was worth the peace of mind. She reached a hand out, slender fingers brushing over the unkempt stubble dusting his jaw. Her thumb traced a circle on his chin that caused involuntary shivers to creep down his back.

“Chat.”

“Hmmm?” He couldn’t recall when he closed his eyes.

“Why do you steal?”

Chat’s eyelids flickered open to regard her before he answered, but Marinette had closed her own with a sleepy expression. “Because I have this insatiable desire to surround myself with pilfered possessions and twirl a villainous mustache.”

“Are you ever going to give me a straight answer?” She sounded more amused than irritated.

He chuckled and trailed hesitant fingers over her bare arm. “What do you think?”

A hard sigh escaped her lips and she settled into the pillows; retracting her hand and curling it next to her face. “Why is it so cold in here?”

“...aaand that, Purrincess, shall too, remain a mystery.” He answered coyly, snatching the duvet and pulling it over the both of them.

The lights in the apartment were still on, the tv in the living room a pleasant buzz, and Marinette was still dressed, but in that moment Chat would not have disturbed her for the world. The woman he desired was curled up next to him, her breaths becoming steady as she fell asleep, looking as beautiful as he wanted to make her feel. He continued to trail his fingers over her arm, opting to watch her rather than attempt sleep himself. Not that he could sleep even if he wanted to. If not for the hole in his leg he might have seriously considered a cold shower.

Ten minutes later a staticky hiss from the nightstand disturbed the blissful trance settled around him. Chat snatched the earpiece from its resting place and threaded it over his ear.

“This had better be important,” and his irate voice was barely a whisper.

His partner’s nasally chatter filled his ear, causing a deep frown to settle on his features. Chat Noir gently curled his fingers in the hair of the woman next to him and stared at her with a resigned expression.

“...tomorrow night...”

Chapter Text

Marinette’s POV

While a spectacular fantasy, (one she found herself entertaining more and more as time passed) waking up in the arms of the disreputable Chat Noir was not something Marinette expected to let happen. Up until the night before, it had been on a long list of things she intended to never let happen with him.

Albeit slightly startled, and a bit ashamed, she wasn’t as shocked as she should have been when his scent permeated her slowly waking mind. That should have been the second warning that she was becoming way too comfortable with him. The first had been the realization that she wanted to drown in his presence felt through her sixth sense. A realization that only cemented itself when she could not feel him.

Chat was on his back, blonde hair forming a messy halo around his head and against the pillows; the air passing through his nose an even rhythm accompanied by lower tones of quiet snoring. Her nose was tucked against his chest, his bicep serving to pillow her head while the rest of his arm curled over her shoulder, keeping her pulled against his side. Her pink duvet, accented with black stripes and now sporting iodine stains, was pulled over them both, but Marinette had a feeling the delightful pocket of warmth was the result of mingled bodies rather than blankets.

The air in the apartment held a distinct chill that was unnatural for the early summer season, but with a sleep fogged mind Marinette found it hard to care at that particular moment. She was merely thankful to be tucked under a warm duvet next an equally toasty Chat. Her sense of relief to note she was still fully clothed, was not shadowed in the least by the discomfort of having slept in jeans, a brassiere, and blouse, all night. The body aches were definitely worth the peace of mind that things hadn’t gone farther than kissing.

Memories of those heated kisses sent pleasant shivers coursing down her spine and tapering off at her fingertips, which were splayed over his naked chest. A detail that was becoming an ever present occurrence the longer he stayed in her apartment. Chat was not body shy, not in the least, and he was taking complete advantage over the things his body did to her.

Marinette ran her fingertips over his skin delighting in the goose bumps left in their wake. Not for the first time she noted his distinct lack of body hair, and given he hadn’t shaved once since arriving in her apartment, she could only assume he waxed. His face, on the other hand, was sporting an attractive layer of stubble that she could only describe as scruff. She wanted to run her hand over it, and had to scold herself to keep from doing so.

Its Wednesday...

That meant she had to work.

Marinette found it peculiar that she woke up before her phone alarms had gone off, especially considering how relaxed she was. The sunlight trickling through the curtains, casting playful patterns on the bed, only intensified the shadow of worry that crawled over her. She pulled away from Chat just enough to fish around in her pocket and pull out her cell.

9:47am

She had to blink several times, her tired brain struggling like a child to make sense of the numbers.

I’m late for work.

“Hell.” She bolted upright to check her alarms, determined to find out why they never woke her up. They were fine, all three of them still set, staggered by half hour intervals starting at six am. Her next thought was to check her phone volume.

“Why the hell is my phone on silent?” Marinette practically yelled the question. This was her work phone, it was never on silent.

“Hmmm~?” Chat stirred from his sleep, lazier than she considered acceptable for someone of his profession.

“My phone. It’s on silent. I never set it on silent, and now I’m late for work.” She narrowed her eyes at the man.

Chat cracked open one cat eye, revealing he hadn’t removed his contacts to sleep, then shut it again and smiled. “I wonder how that happened.”

“You!” She began, feeling the fires of her temper being stoked. Then another realization struck her. “You picked my pockets while I was asleep!” She checked said pockets to make sure nothing was missing, and gnashed her teeth when she found her keys were gone, as well as the bar receipts from the previous evening.

“I’m surprised you didn’t notice,” he drawled, voice heavy with arrogance. “You made particularly wonderful noises while my hands were in your back pockets. I’m usually a superb pickpocket, but I got a little distracted.”

Marinette slapped him across the cheek so hard her fingers stung. “I told you never to steal from me! And how dare you touch me, and while I was asleep!” She rolled away from him and out of the bed so fast that her head swam, hand shooting out to steady herself against the nightstand.

Her fingers brushed against objects cluttering the surface, and it took a moment to realize it was her keys, and the receipts. He’d taken them from her pockets and set them on the nightstand, most likely to keep the contents of her pockets from digging into her hips. She was loathe to admit that she felt a little moved by the gesture, despite the overwhelming anger that he’d taken advantage of the action to grope her.

So why return the phone to her pocket? Because that would be the first item she checked for in the morning, and would’ve been a red flag had it also been on the nightstand.

She left the room fuming and that irritation only erupted in anger when she investigated the thermostat to find out why the apartment was so damn cold.

“You manipulative bastard!”

Her anger eventually subsided after storming off to the kitchen in a huff to make a pot of coffee. She was already late, rushing would not make her any less so. When she returned with a cup of coffee, and a glass of water, Chat was sitting up, his back propped with pillows against the headboard.

He watched her with a guarded expression when she crossed the room and placed the water on the nightstand.

“No coffee for me?”

“You don’t deserve coffee,” she bit back bitterly.

Chat’s face dropped into a pathetic expression, lower lip jutting out, and brows drawn up over sad eyes. It was so comical Marinette almost choked on her coffee and had to clap a hand over her mouth to keep it from dribbling down her chin.

“What happened to the fiery temptress of last night? If I recall, she had no qualms with my particular trade.” He popped a few painkillers and chased them with the water.

“A momentary lapse in judgment.” Marinette pulled a change of clothes from the closet, a typical white blazer and skirt set; this one sporting cute floral embroidery along the hems and on the pockets of the blazer. She grabbed a dark grey blouse from her dresser to match, and a change of undergarments, then marched off to the bathroom to change.

She was pretty sure she lied to him. It wasn’t a momentary lapse in judgment. Marinette wanted to blame it on the drinks she had with Nathaniel, claim it all went to her head and lowered her inhibitions. But even if she’d been tipsy when she got home from the pub, hours had passed between her last drink and kissing Chat Noir. The decision had been entirely a sober one, the only thing she’d been drunk on was the overwhelming sensation of his presence, and that it caught her off guard.

It had been unexpected, the way it rushed over her, and she hated to admit she liked it. Marinette wanted to kiss him again. If she thought she wanted him before it was nothing compared to how she wanted him now. His presence wasn’t even a chill anymore, after last night the sensations had morphed into a pleasant burn, almost as if they were reflecting something deeper.

“Just go to work,” she scolded herself. “You need to get away from him and clear your head.”

The sudden vibration in her pocket, followed by the cheerful chirping of her cell ringtone, wrenched Marinette from her troubled thoughts and back to the present. Slipping the phone from her pocket, she answered it on the second ring, not even bothering to check the caller ID.

“Hello?”

“Good morning Mari, this is Tikki. I’m just calling to check on you.”

Marinette sank down on the edge of the laundry hamper and breathed a hard sigh. “I’m fine,” she began, picking over her words very carefully, “I went out last night and had some drinks with a friend; I think I had a bit too much, because I overslept.”

“Celebrating the success of the exhibit, I presume?” Her boss sounded amused. “Must’ve been one hell of a hangover, you aren’t usually late for work.”

“Yeah...” she swallowed thickly, “I’m so sorry about that, I’ll be there in an hour.”

“Why don’t you take the day off? You’ve earned it, and there aren’t any pressing matters you need to attend to anyway. Not until I work out the details on the Bannister collection, that is.” There was a rustling in the background, and it sounded like Tikki was rifling through paperwork.

“Are you sure?” Marinette couldn’t remember the last time Tikki had insisted she take a day off. Between preparations for the Egyptian exhibit and training to be director, her schedule for the past four months had been solid.

The sound of an office door opening followed by a nasally voice could be heard on the other end of the phone, but Marinette couldn’t make out what the other person was saying.

“One of the tech guys wishes to have a word with me,” Tikki suddenly explained.

“Which one? The fellow with who always wears paisley socks, or the one that stinks of cheese?”

“Stinky cheese man.” And there was a shrill whine of protest in the background. “Anyway, rest up, and I’ll see you early tomorrow morning.”

Marinette barely managed a, “thank you,” before Tikki blurted out a farewell and hung up. She stared at her phone for a long moment, then slipped it back into her pocket. Her work clothes, thrown over the towel rack, were looking quite useless now that she had the day off.

Gathering the clothes, Marinette cracked open the door and shouted, “My boss just gave me the day off. Looks like I’m stuck with you all day.”

“Splendid,” he called back. “Let me just clear my schedule for you.” Chat was smiling when she entered the bedroom and began putting the blazer and skirt away. “It will be my pleasure to entertain you this afternoon.”

“What could you possibly need to cancel? You’re bedridden.”

“Well, contrary to what you believe, I had a luxurious sponge bath planned, followed by breakfast in bed, and a long nap. Then there was the session of lamenting over my injured leg, followed by an afternoon of awful soap operas on the television. If you weren’t home by then, there was the possibility of another nap, or I might have just curled up in your bed and thought about you.” He finished the last part with a suggestive lift of his brows and a Cheshire grin.

She balled up the grey blouse and tossed it at him.

He snatched it from the air.

Given that work was canceled, Marinette chose something more comfortable, deciding on a pair of pale pinks slacks and a sleeveless shirt with a striped pattern along the hem. After changing, she pulled her hair into a half-up style, the top a loose ponytail, while the back cascaded over her shoulders. It was a casual look, and she didn’t bother with make-up since she had no intention of going out.

It still struck her when Chat eyed her appreciatively, as if she were beautiful even without a dress or fancy attire. Those looks weren’t something she was accustomed to.

They ate breakfast in silence, sitting on opposite ends of the bed. It was the first time he ate in front of her since they shared pastries together on his first morning in her apartment. He ate reluctantly, and chewed the food slowly, but he ate all of it.

After taking their dishes to the kitchen she caught him staggering about her room on his way to the bathroom. Chat didn’t protest when she offered support, and once in the bathroom, she excused herself to give him privacy while she fetched clean towels from the dryer.

Marinette came back with a fresh pair of cotton pajama bottoms for him, a towel, and a shirt she was pretty sure he wasn’t going or wear. He gave her permission to enter after a hesitant knock on the door, and she found him in his underwear perched on the edge of the bathtub. He was pale, panting for breath, teeth clenched from trying to bite back his pain. Just the effort of using the bathroom and trying to bathe was agonizing for him.

Her heart ached at the sight. As much as he tossed about lewd comments, and playful banter, this man was hurting all the time, and even more so when he had to move around. Chat Noir kept more than just his physical mask up at all times.

When he picked up the wash rag, she stepped next to him and pulled it from his fingers.

Wheat-grass green met azure blue, and she realized he removed his contact lenses. It wasn’t toxic cat eyes that stared up at her, but lovely normal eyes that tickled the back of her mind with familiarity.

“Would you like some assistance, Chat?” She smiled down at him, twisting the wash rag between her fingers in a nervous gesture. “I promise my hands won’t wander.”

Chat smiled, his eyes closing and leaned into her, “your assistance would be a blessing, my lady.”

To her surprise, Chat was a complete gentleman the entire time. She brought a chair in to sit on, and helped Chat to sit between her knees on the edge of the tub, with his feet inside. The process was slow, but he was patient while she soaped his body; his only commentary the occasional pleased hum when something felt good. She found he was particularly sensitive around his sides, and just below his ears. The latter drawing stuttered breaths, and a poorly concealed groan. The former begging her to question how ticklish he was.

Chat took command when it came to washing his more private areas, and Marinette found something else to do while he finished his bath.

She returned to change his bandages and found him in the cotton sleeping pants, designer briefs sitting on the top of the laundry hamper. Changing his bandages went about as well as she expected. There was writhing, and hissing from the application of the antiseptic, but he calmed down once the fresh bandages were applied.

“Shall I wash your hair as well, Chaton?”

He was lying on the floor looking up at her with glassy tired eyes. Marinette was on her knees by his side trying to fight the warm feeling that blossomed in her chest when she looked at him.

“I would like that... a lot.”

Washing his hair went much the same as before. She propped the chair against the sink, and he leaned back in it with his head under the water. Halfway through the washing she noticed him biting his lip and asked if he was hurting.

“No,” Chat rasped.

“Then what’s the matter?” Marinette frowned, and worried her own lip.

“It feels so nice.”

“Since when have you been modest about your vocalizations?” It dawned on her that he was trying not to hum in pleasure every time her fingers threaded through his hair.

“It’s complicated,” was his only retort.

A wicked grin pulled at the edges of her mouth, and Marinette bent low to his ear, her lips so close, that her breath ghosted over his cheek. “Purr, for me,” she whispered, just before she ran her fingertips through his soapy blonde hair. A shiver ran down her spine at her own audacity the same moment she heard Chat’s breath hitch, and seconds later a breathy moan escaped his throat.

The next ten minutes were spent massaging his scalp, trying to pull from him every hum and keen of pleasure possible. She was not disappointed. He was practically purring his appreciation and she had him reduced to a boneless heap under her fingers.

Marinette stood between his knees to dry his hair, toweling the damp locks while he watched her. She was nearly finished when he caught her gaze, and she noticed a flicker of need dance behind his eyes before he shut them.

He wasn’t the only one affected. Her blood felt hot the moment she offered to help him bathe and had only gotten worse the more things progressed.

Not once had he tried to touch her, or say anything salacious, making every effort to keep things as comfortable as he could between them. It was odd, the fine line he danced between gentleman and scoundrel.

Before she could stop herself Marinette bent forward. The towel fell to his shoulder and her hands cupped the sides of his face, tilting his head back so she could kiss him. She felt him flinch when her lips pressed against his, but it didn’t deter her.

There was that moment where he hesitated, as if giving her time to retract the kiss, and when she didn’t, instead drawing his bottom lip between her teeth, he lost control. A noise akin to a growl ripped from his chest, and Chat had his hands in her hair pulling her closer to deepen the kiss.

His head cocked to the side, lips stroking hers, meeting her every mouth movement with equal fervor until Marinette found it difficult to breathe. He was effectively stealing the air from her lungs with the same movements that set her skin on fire, and made her blood course like hot lead through her veins. She turned away to catch her breath, only to gasp when Chat pulled her down to straddle his right leg.

When he kissed her again his tongue pushed past her lips and all she could taste was him. His breath, his mouth, his name that caught in the back of her throat when a moan spilled from her chest. He swallowed the moan as if she’d given it to him, and reciprocated with a deeper throatier noise through his nose.

At some point, her hands moved their way from the sides of his face, and resumed a more familiar spot, taking fistfuls of his hair. Her arms braced against his shoulders for support because the rest of her body was shaking with anticipation and barely controlled desire.

Chat’s hands were on her hips, his fingers digging into her flesh, and releasing again, only to repeat the same action. When he dared to let fingers trail down her backside, just above the hem of her slacks, he was rewarded by the roll of Marinette’s hips, a subtle encouragement to let hands wander where they may. The message was clear because both his hands shot from her hips to cup her ass, hauling her closer until her knee was wedged between his thighs.

He wanted her.

The physical manifestation of that desire, pressed against her leg, wrenched a gasp from her throat, ending their heated wet kiss only for Chat to trail far more innocent kisses along her jaw. He was very good with his mouth, careful teeth nipping the flesh along her neck while he worked his way down to her shoulder. Even the brush of his scruffy stubble sent thrills down her spine, making her toes curl.

She took a cue from earlier and pressed a kiss to the spot just below his ear, the silver piercing in his lobe brushing against her nose. His shiver was rewarding enough to entice her to suck on the skin and curl her fingers in the shorter hair at his nape.

“M-Mari,” Chat’s voiced cracked in a desperate way.

“You said my name,” she whispered, her voice just as affected as his.

“I’ll be chanting it like a mantra if you keep this up.”

“Maybe we should stop then,” the suggestion was only meant to tease him.

“Oh please don’t make this about my leg; I can ignore it.”

He sucked in a sharp breath and held her tighter, and suddenly Marinette couldn’t decipher if his panting was from desire or pain, or both. He was trembling under her touch, and she wasn’t even doing anything anymore.

She stumbled off his lap so fast she almost tripped over the edge of the bathtub and barely caught herself on the wall and shower curtain. Chat, startled by her sudden withdrawal, jerked up straight, his eyes searching hers for answers he wasn’t going to like.

“I’m hurting you.” She whispered, noting the poorly concealed relief in his ragged breaths once her weight was removed.

“I said, I can ignore it.” He growled, but his eyes clenched shut all the same.

“But I can’t.” Her knees buckled beneath her as the emotional high started to simmer down. She slipped down to sit of the edge of the tub and the cold surface helped restore some of her clarity.

His voice rumbled ever lower, “why?”

“Because I care about you!” The words ripped from her chest like a confession, putting to spotlight emotions she’d been trying so desperately to deny the existence of. Marinette stood up and made her way to the door, unable to meet his eyes while she coped with the acknowledgment of her feelings. “Chat, I...” she swallowed the mix of words on the tip of her tongue and escaped the bathroom before she said something truly stupid.

0000

She wasn’t quite sure what he did after she left the bathroom, eventually she heard him limp out to the living room where she was sitting on the couch playing a video game. Chat paused at the entry like he normally did to assess her, he only moved when she gave him half a smile and patted the couch cushion at her side.

“Can I play?” His eyes flashed to the screen just long enough to register the game she was playing.

“Of course.” Marinette helped him down, and propped his leg on the lumpy ottoman. “You play Hyrule Warriors?” It piqued her curiosity that the man next to her played video games. It felt like an odd contrast to connect such a mundane pastime to this infamous and aloof criminal. A man so shrouded in mystery she didn’t know his real name, or even how old he was.

“My preferred character is Volga.” Chat smiled when she handed him a controller, his fingers running over the plastic like an old friend.

“I would’ve taken you for a Sheik player.” She teased, pointedly eyeing the mask still obscuring his features. The skin on his jaw looked clean, and she could only assume he’d taken advantage of her absence to wash his face.

Chat smirked at her comment, and asked in turn, “what about you? Are you a Midna, or Zelda? Or paw-ssibly Impa?”

“So presumptuous, Chat Noir, assuming I prefer playing only lady characters.” She poked his right leg with her toe and entered the character select screen.

“Who, pray tell, do you fancy then, Purrincess?” He snatched up Volga without missing a beat while she idled over the characters without commitment.

When she finally paused the cursor, it was on a tiny green man with a cherry red nose.

“You can’t be serious.” He breathed, his mouth pulling into a grimace. “Tingle?”

She couldn’t stop the bubble of laughter at his reaction and dragged the cursor over to Ganondorf instead. “I fancy the demon king, actually.”

“Fascinating.”

Their conversation devolved into playful banter and teasing jibes while the hours melted away. When they tired of the first game, Marinette swapped to a few rounds of Street Fighter, which ended rather quickly when Chat lost for the fourth time, and demanded a different game. They ended up shuffling through Yoshi’s Wooly World and into Pokken Tournament before they finally called it quits.

The evening found them both, lounged across the couch, watching an old film about a sinking ship and a group of survivors attempting to traverse the length of the boat, their last hope of rescue. Marinette was curled up along the edge of the sofa with Chat’s head resting on her lap, her fingers playing with the longer locks of his hair.

Dinner had been a pizza she ordered in, but Chat barely touched it, only eating a slice and a half. She didn’t press him on the subject, and merely offered to make him something else if he didn’t like it. He declined and insisted the pizza was delicious.

“Did you know they have guided Nintendo 3DS tours at the Louvre?” Chat’s sudden initiation of conversation caught her off guard. The movie was scrolling through the credits, and she shifted her legs as a prompt for him to move.

“Yes,” she hummed, amused by the subject of the conversation, “Unfortunately the Belleville doesn’t have such a charming feature.” He only protested a bit when she stood up and hauled him up off the couch after her, wedging her shoulder under his arm and her arms gripping his waist.

“Your museum has something far more charming,” he murmured, leaning into her for the support, but taking advantage of their proximity to brush his nose along the edge of her ear.

Marinette’s breath hitched, and had to fight the heat that rose to her cheeks. “You flirt.”

He stumbled along beside her as she led him to the bedroom. “Guilty... as... charged, my lady.”

Just like the night before he pulled her down onto the bed to lie next to him. Only this time Marinette wasn’t so keen about the idea.

“The lights, and the food, and I really shouldn’t.” She protested, and tried to roll away, but his hand held onto her hip with that gentle controlled strength he sometimes exhibited.

“Please stay with me,” he murmured the words with an edge of emotion she hadn’t heard before.

Marinette heaved a sigh, all her resolve crumbling at the look on his face. “Promise you won’t silence my phone, or take advantage of the situation to feel me up?”

“On my honor,” He purred.

“On the honor of a thief?” Her voice incredulous and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“On my honor as a cat.” He held up a hand dramatically, like he was taking a vow.

“But you aren’t a cat.”

“Well then, I guess you’ll just have to take my word.”

Marinette curled into the pillows and hummed, “that’s dangerous.”

“I know,” he murmured, and she felt him thread his fingers through her hair.

Her eyes fluttered shut at the contact, a part of her registering just what he found so fantastically alluring about the gesture. He continued to stroke the top of her head even while her mind wandered away from her, and thoughts became foggy and slow. 

0000

Chat Noir’s POV

He waited patiently till the woman next to him fell asleep, making certain she wasn’t resting on his arm when it happened. Chat checked the time on her cell, noting it was just before eleven, before placing it on the nightstand.

There was a painful river of warmth that bled in his chest when he inclined his head and placed a chaste kiss to her temple.

Beautiful farewell“This is where I bid you a beautiful farewell,” he echoed the words he spoke to her the first time they parted ways after meeting that night in the museum.

It was with great resignation and a heavy heart that Chat moved away from her and pulled his things out of one of her pillow cases. He stuffed one of his gloves in his mouth to muffle his panting, and rolled off the bed with practiced consideration.

Even with a bullet wound in his leg, he managed to scour the room in relative silence gathering his things, suit, belt, gloves, boots, ears, and other cat burglar paraphernalia. His earpiece already threaded over his ear, awaiting the signal from his partner.

He shut the bedroom door on his way to the living room so she wouldn’t hear his mewls of pain when he slipped his catsuit back on. The material was stiff from a combination of disuse, being rolled up, and the washing Marinette had given it. He noted that she mended the bullet hole; mended it so well that he almost couldn’t tell there had been a hole in the first place.

Getting the material over his wounded leg proved to be a task so draining that he was gasping around his glove when it was over. He let loose a curse when the zipper on the front gave him more trouble than it should have.

He’d known better than to indulge the foods she served him. Everything he ate the whole week was in complete violation with his strict diet, and now his suit was snitching on him.

I’ve put on weight, he thought bitterly, and sucked in his stomach so he could ease the zipper up to his neck. The skin-tight material protested when he released his abdominal muscles, and Chat Noir grimaced in response.

The earpiece hissed with Plagg’s nasally voice just after he finished slipping his boots on, and cinching his belt in place. Opting to slip the cat ears into one of the utility pouches rather than clipping them to his hair.

“I’m ready.”

The earpiece buzzed a response, and the front door of the apartment eased open as silently as the hinges would allow. A squat little Spanish man waddled into the apartment carrying two crutches under his arm, and approached the cat burglar seated on the couch.

“Is she asleep?”

“Yes.” Chat answered in a low register.

“Did you tell her you were leaving?” Plagg thrust the crutches at his partner, and waited for Chat to pick himself up off the couch.

The cat burglar’s silence was the only answer Plagg required.

“What a heartbreaker.” There was almost an edge of disgust behind the sick amusement when he sneered it. “You’re lucky I found you a new place under such short notice. It’s small but discreet. I’m renting it under one of my other aliases.”

Chat Noir tested out the crutches before making to follow Plagg from the apartment.

“I’ve hired a private physician to treat your leg, and you’ll be starting intense physiotherapy as soon as the wound heals enough.”

“With my money I’m sure,” Chat snipped cynically.

“Of course,” Plagg bit back. “You were the one stupid enough to poke the hornet’s nest, so you foot the bill.”

The two men locked and shut the apartment door, and Plagg helped Chat take the steps down the stairwell of the darkened building. The lights having been manually shut off to provide them the cover of darkness, should one of the residents be up at the late hour.

“Thanks, Plagg.” He whispered. “I could never do this without you.”

There was a long silence before Plagg replied with a soft, “...I missed you too, kid.”

Chapter Text

Marinette’s POV

The blaring sound of her cell startled Marinette from a restful sleep. It took a few swipes, but she finally managed to silence it, and rolled over to doze till the next one chimed. The apartment was comfortable, the bed was toasty, the pillows soft, and Chat’s masculine scent surrounded her. She reached an arm out to touch him, but her hand fell upon empty mattress.

Bolting upright, she blinked around, noting the bed was empty aside from herself, and the rest of the room was quiet. There wasn’t a cat burglar in sight, only the early morning light casting muted grey tones over everything.

I can’t feel him.

Even her other sense came up with nothing. The distinct lack of the chill and burn made her feel cold even though the air in the apartment was pleasantly warm.

That doesn’t mean he’s gone.

Marinette recalled the last two times her sixth sense malfunctioned, and it turned out to be false alarms. She rolled out of bed determined to discover where he’d wandered off to. It was likely he was in the bathroom, or the kitchen. After all, he was wounded, and it wasn’t like he could get very far. Not without a car, and dressed the way he was, in or out of the catsuit.

“Chat?” She received no answer.

The bathroom was untouched; chair sitting in the center of the room where she’d left it the day before.

The kitchen was equally as deserted.

“Chat!” This time her voice rang with a little more desperation. But the only response she received was the faint echo of her call resounding off the walls of her quiet apartment.

Marinette scoured the apartment for his things, and they were all gone as well. The absence of his belongings brought the reality down upon her like a bucket of ice.

Chat Noir left. He was really gone.

She should have been relieved. There was no longer a wanted criminal holed up in her apartment. She wasn’t responsible for his recovery anymore, and she wasn’t providing him sanctuary. There would be no more seduction from his flirty charms, or sinful good looks. All temptation to dance with the devil and play with fire, removed.

Her throat felt tight, and her eyes burned. Despite every argument to convince herself this was for the best, there was an emptiness that settled in her chest, and it was made worse by the longing she felt at the absence of his presence.

This is wrong, all kinds of wrong. He’s a thief, and you’re a curator working for a museum that he’s hell bent of robbing. Oh, how easy it was to lose sight of that while he was staying with her. Convincing herself that she had nothing to worry about as long as he was wounded. That he had nowhere to go, that she was in control of the situation, and he was at her mercy.

Oh, how very wrong she was. Marinette crumpled onto her couch, hands running over the surface taking solace in the texture while her thoughts ran away from her in a jumbled emotionally strained mess.

I am so fucking stupid.

But then there was the question, why did Chat leave? There were various reasons he could have up and taken off; be it to seek better medical attention, or because he didn’t trust her and her apartment was not a good place for him to hide, or maybe it was because she’d very nearly told him she had feelings for him. All of which were equally valid reasons for a man of his nature to high tail it. Although the possibility of the last one left her feeling very empty and despondent.

0000

“You look like hell, boss.”

Marinette stepped into her office, and immediately set a glare on the small dark-skinned Spanish man sitting at the spare desk. Félix was settled in his usual chair, surrounded by boxes, a small plate of half-eaten camembert cheese next to his disconnected key board.

The smell in the tiny room could have curdled molasses, and that still would’ve smelled a hell of a lot better. As it were, Marinette couldn’t keep from wrinkling her nose.

“What are you still doing here? I thought all the temps were dismissed after Monday?” She had to double check the date in her head and concluded it was indeed Thursday.

“What’s got your panties in a twist?” Félix was reacting to her oddly sharp and venomous tone, he even gave her a once over noting her stiff posture and tired, but hard, eyes.

“That’s no way to speak to your boss,” she snapped back.

“Since when have you been this much of a bitch?” He swiveled around in his chair to face her directly, and even though he was tiny and seated, he matched her glare with one of his own, refusing to give her an inch. “I don’t care if you are the boss, don’t you come in here and breathe fire and brimstone down upon me for no good reason. You get as much respect as you give.”

Marinette opened her mouth to retort, and shut it again. He was right, she was being awfully rude and Félix had done nothing wrong. After a long breath, she started again, “I’m sorry. I had a rough morning.”

The small man swiveled back to face the desk again and picked up his keyboard, wrapping the cord around it and placing it carefully into one of the boxes. “Apology accepted. I’m moving offices. Ms. Felicitas has agreed to give me a permanent full time position at this museum, so I’ll be rooming with your good friend Max until I get my own office.”

“Oh.” It occurred to Marinette that this must have been the reason Félix wanted to speak to Tikki the previous morning. “Max is going to adore you.” She hoped he didn’t pick up on the sarcasm in her tone.

“Everyone adores me.” Whether or not he was responding to her sarcasm, he still narrowed his eyes and grinned mischievously at her.

Marinette had yet to see her assistant that morning; she pulled out her phone and shot a text asking Juleka to pick up some air fresheners, car fresheners, and a package of disinfectant wipes, as well as can of the scented aerosol.

0000

Among all the other recent developments in her life, Marinette happened upon Nino and Agent Haprele in Max’s office later that afternoon. The three men were conversing in hushed tones, and had rolls of blueprints spread out over the available desk space. The various computer monitors were abuzz with the usual technical coding and Max tapped a lean finger against the screen before turning his attention back to a file splayed in front of him.

The room fell silent a moment later when the occupants finally noticed Marinette standing in the threshold.

“Hey,” she greeted, feeling nervous under the scrutiny of the three men. “Just wanted to congratulate Max on his new office mate, but I seem to have come at a bad time.” She could have sworn she heard the term, ‘bait,’ and they appeared to be mapping out possible access routes to the location of the Bastet statue. “Juleka will be dropping off some air fresheners before we leave today, they’re a gift.”

“Why?” Max quirked a brow at her.

Nino pulled off his glasses to clean them with a cloth from his suit pocket.

“You should figure that out by tomorrow.” She nodded to the two agents, and bid a polite farewell. Nino returned the nod and Haprele gave her half a smile. When she backed out of the office she pulled the door mostly closed after herself and made to walk away.

But curiosity made her pause just out of view, back pressed against the wall, ears straining to catch even a hint of their conversation.

“Ok, say he has access to the schematics like we presume. According to them, the weak points are located here... and here. The first will be too obvious, and he’ll assume a trap. The second will be rigged with security measures not included in any of our schematics. I’ve already ran some tests on it, and unless that man is incorporeal there isn’t any way he’s making off with that statue.”

“What about the other Bastet related artifacts?”

“We’ve got similar set ups on them as well. All we have to do is wait for him to take the bait.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling. The exhibit has been open for almost a week, and the artifacts put out for longer, yet we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him. It’s unusual for him to bide his time like this, stupid even for him to stick around Paris this long.”

“It was stupid for him to steal that ring from the pawnbroker. I still think it was a ruse, Lahiffe. I don’t think it was him at all.”

“I know he’s here, dammit! He was after this same artifact back in London, I promise you.”

“All I’m saying is it’s not like him to pull off a petty heist like that and draw all the teeth of Interpol down on Paris, especially if he had his eyes set on something bigger. We might be chasing ghosts here.”

“I know.”

Marinette peeled away from the wall and tip-toed from the office before any of the men noticed she’d been eavesdropping. She’d heard enough to deduce the situation.

They were setting traps.

Traps for Chat Noir.

She went home that night, feeling his absence in the apartment almost as acutely as when she felt his presence, and downed a whole bottle of wine and half of another, getting drunker than she’d ever been in a good long while. She didn’t want to be aware of him anymore.

The tv buzzed with some ridiculous cartoon about a group of kids and some pink computer AI girl they were trying to help. Marinette sat on the couch in a hazy stupor, not even watching the tv, but accepting it as background noise to drown out her own thoughts. She eventually fell asleep on the couch because she couldn’t bring herself to sleep in the bed until she washed his smell off all of the blankets.

0000

A week later she found a green pair of Gabriel brand boxer briefs in the clean laundry she extracted from the dryer.

She ended up standing in her tiny laundry room for fifteen minutes just staring at them in puzzlement before she sank to her knees and laughed so hard it was borderline hysterical.

Her only thought was, How did he forget these?

0000

Two long months passed before Marinette heard anything about Chat Noir. Part of her hoped he’d reach out to contact her in some way. Find some way to leave her those charming yet annoying gifts, show up in her apartment unexpectedly ...or anything really.

The exhibit remained untouched; security was still tight as a drum. Interpol and the PP still crawled around biding their time, whispering their plans, and trolling their nets, so to speak. They were starting to get antsy from the lack of activity.

It was a news report that gave her an update on his activities.

According to those reports, Chat Noir had been sighted in Venice almost a month prior to the current date, and as far as Bucharest in the following weeks. There were also a string of recent robberies in which he was considered the most likely suspect. Everything matched his M.O.

And she would have believed it too if she weren’t privy to information no one else in the whole god-damned world was.

Chat Noir was wounded. The bullet missed the artery on his inner thigh, and the femur, but had gone straight through the muscle on his outer thigh. While absurdly lucky, and a fast healer, it was going to take time to recover. There was no way in hell he’d spent the past month traveling across Europe committing these burglaries. Even if he was back on his feet now, she found it hard to believe he was already throwing himself back into his old habits. It was too improbable, and he wasn’t stupid enough to work at anything less than one hundred percent. Or at least, that’s what she hoped.

Interpol couldn’t turn a blind eye to these potential leads however, and it wasn’t long before the mass of Interpol agents got dispersed to follow up on the different sightings and robberies. Nino insisted on staying behind in Paris, adamant that Chat was still in France, that he was lulling them into a false sense of security.

Marinette suspected there was another reason behind his insistence to stay. A certain fiancé. Most certainly because Nino wanted to spend more time with Alya, but also because Alya probably raised hell at the mention of Nino leaving Paris on yet another assignment.

There wasn’t a day that passed that Marinette didn’t think about the roguish cat burglar. Some days were filled with irritation at herself for not turning him in when she had the chance, mostly futile attempts to convince herself he was a bad man, and stern lectures about morals. But more often than not her thoughts were plagued with fond memories and heated fantasies. Such thoughts pondered while she sat in bed and rolled his bell around in her hands. Moving it around and watching the polished gold surface catch the light from her bedside lamp.

She didn’t try to console herself with misguided delusions. Chat wasn’t some sort of Robin Hood. Whatever he stole was never seen nor heard of again, and if he did donate to charity it wasn’t under the guise of his thiefly persona. She also didn’t believe for a second that she could make him change his ways. If anything did happen between them, she suspected he would waltz out of her life just as suddenly as he waltzed into it.

There was no expectation of promises, or happily ever afters.

Just the acceptance that she was falling in love with him.

0000

Once a year, whenever the opportunity became available, Marinette and Alya made certain to find time in their respective schedules to marathon the extended cuts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was always the plan to have their movie night after the opening of the Belleville’s Egyptian exhibit, because it was the most open Marinette’s schedule would be for awhile and she tended to be the workaholic between the two of them.

Friends and family were aware at this point that the women would sequester themselves in an apartment (usually Marinette’s because she was single and they didn’t want Nino interrupting their ritual) for the entirety of a day, fridge stocked with food, and pantry full of snacks and drinks. No phones got answered unless it was an emergency, and Alya usually spent the night after it was all over.

Three hours into their movie marathon, on a lazy Saturday, while strewn across Alya’s lap, Marinette received a text message from a number she didn’t recognize. The area code was especially strange, but the message itself was vague and uncomfortably sensual.

I’d like to take you as I find you.

Marinette stared dumbly at the message for a full minute before Alya took notice and read it over her shoulder.

“Who’s that from?”

“I’m not sure.” Although she suddenly had her suspicions.

Not a minute later her phone vibrated as another text came in.

Imagine our clothes are on the floor.

This time she squeaked and tried to hide her phone before Alya read it, and failed miserably when her friend snatched the device from her fingers.

“Is someone sexting you!?”

“It’s a wrong number!”

The phone vibrated again with another message while it was still in Alya’s possession, and despite Marinette flailing wildly and making several grabs, they were all dodged with ease.

“Feel my caress so soft and gentle?” The wail of embarrassment that erupted from Marinette’s throat sounded more like a dying animal than human and Alya just shrieked in amusement. “Should we tell them they’re sexting the wrong number or just see how far this goes?”

Marinette made a lunge for the device, and Alya scrambled onto the back of the couch holding it out of reach.

“Or we could respond with equally naughty texts.”

“Alya! How old are you?”

The other woman stuck her tongue out childishly and proclaimed, “You are never too old to mess with wrong numbers. Oh hey, new message: So delicate you cry for more.”

The couch was almost upended in an attempt to reclaim the cellphone, but Alya danced away across the room, typing furiously, and leaving Marinette hanging over the back of the couch shrieking a string of protests.

“And sent!” Her friend tossed the phone back, but Marinette missed catching it and felt the device bean her in the forehead.

“Christ!” The dark-haired curator rolled off the back of the couch and onto the floor grasping her abused skull, and blindly fumbling about for the ricocheted cell.

“Oh God, Mari! I’m so sorry. I thought you would catch it.”

Marinette cracked open an eye, glaring up at the darker skinned woman. “I have the reflexes of a cross-eyed drunk even on my best days, and I’m clumsy enough to trip over a microbe. How did you think I would catch that phone?”

Alya managed a shrug in response and held out a hand to help her off the floor. Marinette ignored it and brought the cell within view so she could assess the damage done. One look at the message her friend sent was enough to rip an exasperated groan form her chest. The hand holding the cell dropped against her stomach and her other fist smashed into the back of the couch.

“You are going to give him the wrong idea.”

“So you do know this guy.” The smirk that etched along Alya’s mouth was both devious and victorious. She settled on the arm of the couch, the rest of her body draped over the back with her arms crossed and head resting upon them. “Is this the guy you don’t-want-to-want so bad?

Marinette’s silence was all the answer she needed.

“Are you ready to tell me about him yet?”

“If I said no, would you drop the issue?”

There was a smug shake of Alya’s head when she responded with a concise, “No.”

She released a hard breath. “If I tell you about him, you have to promise it won’t go farther than this apartment, and I can’t tell you his name.”

“And why not?” She asked, frowning beneath a quirked brow.

“Because he’s kinda... famous, and would prefer I kept him anonymous.”

“...Okay,” Alya appeared to accept the stipulations if it meant she was finally going to hear about Marinette’s oh-so-secret lust interest. “So tell me about him. How did you meet? What’s he like? What does he look like? You can tell me what he looks like, right?

Marinette draped an arm over her face and ignored the vibration of a new text message. “He’s tall-ish, blonde, green eyes, gorgeous body, very attractive. I met him at the museum, and he sorta took an interest in me. He’s got a terrible sense of humor and blurs the line of charming gentleman and insatiable flirt. I didn’t really like him at first, but he’s sort of grown on me.”

She didn’t have to see Alya’s face to know that the other woman was sporting a smug grin, she could hear it in her voice when she said, “So, he’s blonde, gorgeous, has green eyes, and he’s famous. If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were talking about Adrien Agreste.”

“What?” Marinette sat up from the carpet and fixed her friend with an incredulous look. “I am not describing Adrien. I hardly even know that man.”

“I’ve known Adrien a lot longer than you have, but he’s never struck me as an insatiable flirt. I guess that theory is sunk. So, are you seeing Gorgeous Blonde?”

The curator finally peeled herself off the floor and came around the side of the couch to flop over the cushions instead. Alya remained perched on the back and arm rest, eyes bright with curiosity. Marinette wasn’t sure exactly how to word her response, but her friend seemed more than happy to wait while she figured one out. The long forgotten movie continued playing on screen, serving as background noise if nothing else. Marinette’s precarious love interest having become far more fascinating than taking the hobbits to Isengard.

“Not exactly. No,” she began. “It’s complicated. Our respective careers sort of kill any possible chance at a relationship.” You know, with me being head curator of a museum, director in training, and him being a career criminal with a penchant for filching feline themed objects. It would never work.

“What are the chances that two workaholics find each other, want each other, but are too married to their jobs to pursue a romance?”

When Marinette’s phone vibrated once more with a new text, she shut it off, slipping the cell away in her pocket. There would be time to fix the mess Alya created later.

“I can’t take this anymore!” Her best friend rolled off the back of the couch on top of her, pinning Marinette against the cushions, and knocking the wind from her chest. “I’m not gonna sit by and watch you waste your life away in a crusty old museum surrounded by crusty old tapestries, and ancient mummies. We are going clubbing.”

“Alya...” Marinette started when she finally got her breath back. She glared up at the pair of spectacles that were barely perched on the end of her friend’s nose.

“You promised we’d go as soon as your schedule cleared up. It’s been two months since the opening of your big exhibit, your schedule is as clear as it’s gonna get. You, me, and Nino, Friday night. We’ll get wasted, dance, and have a good time.”

Marinette tossed her head to the side and stared at the television without actually seeing the movie. “Getting wasted with you and Nino isn’t my definition of a good time. That’s literally the definition of a third wheel.”

“So we invite someone else and then you’ll be the fourth wheel.”

“...I could invite Nath.”

“Great, he’s just as socially awkward as you, if not more. When Nino and I start making out on the dance floor you two can commiserate with each other at the bar.” Alya leveled her with a hard look moving both her arms to trap Marinette’s face until she looked at her. “You aren’t still using him are you? You two sorted things out and made it clear you weren’t interested?”

“We’re just friends. Though I get this strange feeling he’s trying to set me up with a friend of his.”

“Is his friend hot?”

Marinette shoved her palms against the other woman’s ample chest, forcing her off the couch onto the floor. “Well, yes, because his friend is Adrien Agreste. But that’s not the point.”

“Seriously, what is your problem with that man? He’s a model, the face of a huge fashion company, and if he likes you...” Alya was wiggling along the floor towards the recliner looking bemused.

“For one, he’s a flake. Two, I don’t have a problem with him, he intimidates me. He’s handsome and famous, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why he wants to get to know me.”

“How is that any different from mystery, workaholic Gorgeous Blonde?” Alya deadpanned.

The curator opened her mouth to retort, held up a hand even. Then finally heaved a sigh and crumpled back against the couch in defeat. “Okay, Friday. You win and we get wasted.”

0000

Her office was a mess by Thursday evening. Marinette would have laughed at the irony of getting the space back to herself, only to mess it up worse than when it was occupied by two computer techs, except she was too consumed with the flurry of maps spread out along the desk space. The concept of paper maps was vastly outdated at this point, which made them an easily accessible resource that she could haul out of the basement and use at a whim, and put into scale the conundrum she was currently facing.

For the past week, ever since her movie marathon with Alya, she’d been receiving text messages from a series of unknown numbers. Sometimes the number changed twice or even three times in one day, and she never received more than a handful of texts from any one number before it just suddenly changed.

All the messages were flirty, often times inappropriate, and very rarely did she get a response when she decided to reply back. She was eighty percent sure it was Chat Noir, and tonight she was determined to prove it.

The various maps around her office were weighed down on the corners with staplers, the random coffee mug, and books to keep the paper from rolling up. A scattering of little red sticky tabs, (used to mark pages in files) were serving as map markers; each marker bearing a sequence of numbers, the area codes of the various text messages.

“Yesterday, you were in Brussels, how the hell are you in New Zealand today?”

There were more than a dozen little markers, all impossibly far apart considering the amount of time between when she received the messages and where the area codes corresponded in the real world.

She tossed her cell angrily against the desk top, where it clattered across the surface before connecting with her keyboard. Thank God for iPhone covers. Her chair gave a creak of protest when she collapsed into it, using the heel of her shoe to spin the office chair in a lazy circle. She picked up a pen, only to finish chewing off the end of it, while she contemplated the mess in her office.

“Where are you?”

Chapter Text

(I’m not gonna specify POVs anymore, because it’s unnecessary, unprofessional, and you guys are smart enough to figure it out on your own. Sorry to just start right in the middle of the story, but I’m tired of it and hey we are always improving.)

The clink of Nathaniel’s glass against the counter coupled with a friendly hand gesture signaled the bartender for a refill. A band played on the stage across the room, the usual pop-culture mixes that this particular pub preferred, and the noisy chatter from the patrons only added to the overall din. He took a seat next to the professor, and wasn’t surprised when the man didn’t even look up. Adrien grabbed the barkeep’s attention when he was through with Nathaniel and asked for a simple Sprite.

“You made me look like an idiot.”

“I’m sorry.” Adrien pulled a cane into his lap, and brought his gloved hand up to cover the handle.

“You made it look like you ditched so I’d be alone with her. Do you realize how embarrassing that is? Not to mention, inviting a girl out for drinks with someone famous, and the famous guy conveniently doesn’t show?”

Any average excuse he could’ve come up with would have been insulting to Nathaniel. Work? Then he should’ve called to cancel. Forgot? Then he’s still a dick. “I had an accident, hurt my leg pretty bad.” This was still a precarious excuse and it could potentially backfire, especially since Marinette was familiar with a certain cat burglar’s injuries. But it was the best he had at the moment.

Adrien held up his cane and touched a hand to his left thigh. “I’ve been in recovery. I know I should’ve called and canceled, but I was really out of it for awhile and it slipped my mind.”

“Is that why you missed the Grand Opening at the Belleville?” Nathaniel took a sip of his drink, but eyed Adrien’s leg, and the cane in his lap with a considerable amount of scrutiny. “Miss Bourgeois said you were supposed to be there.”

“That and many other obligations,” the model sighed. “I’ve been unable to work the past month, and if this scars it’ll affect my career in the future.” He was rubbing the bullet wound under his pant leg without even realizing, his palm massaging the leg muscle with absent movements.

“I know I said I’d help you, but I’m not sticking my neck out like that again. I’ll give you advice, tell you things about her, but I’m not arranging something like that again. It... it was bad.”

“I know.”

Nathaniel whipped his head around to fix the blonde man with a perplexed stare.

Adrien curled his fingers and elaborated. “I left you in an awful situation, and I’m sorry for that.”

Nathaniel appeared to accept that answer and took another sip from his drink. “Given your preferred profession, I wasn’t actually surprised. Just irritated.” There was a long silence between both men, Adrien sipping his Sprite and staring a hole into his jeans, while Nathaniel swished his alcoholic beverage around the glass. “You do realize that Marinette thinks you’re a flake now, right?”

He cringed and shifted to face the bar, tucking his cane back underneath. “Uh... yeah. I was afraid of that.”

0000

Three weeks later

He shook the shattered remains of a cheap cellular phone from his fingers and into the nearest trash receptacle. The delicate fashion scarf bunched around his neck was uncomfortably warm in the late French summer, despite the shear material it was made from, and the shades perched upon his nose were starting to look suspicious now that the sun was set. Never mind the obnoxious, yet stylish pinstriped fedora settled on the top of his head.

The custom hand-crafted cane, with a silver handle depicting the head of a caracal, was becoming unnecessary at this point. He could walk without a limp and besides the occasional twinge, or uncomfortable tightness, his leg was doing fine. Plagg may have been insistent that he use it, but it was slowing him down now, and Adrien was tired of keeping up pretenses.

A roll of an ankle, crack of his neck, the subtle stretching of back muscles. Adrien stepped off the curb, not even bothering with the cane anymore. The last crutch holding him back, got tucked behind the seat of his Jaguar. Plagg would undoubtably yell at him, scold him, but he no longer cared. Already he was running various locations through his head.

A little parkour never hurt anyone.

0000

“I don’t remember giving you access to my laptop.”

Adrien glanced up from the machine settled on his blanket covered lap, gave his partner a withering look, then returned his attention back to the screen. “I’m studying the surveillance at the museum.”

“Guard routes, employee schedules, and busy hours, I presume?” The olive-toned man with the slicked back hair, kicked off his shoes and sauntered across the room coming around the back of the couch to glance at the screen of the laptop. The first thing he noticed were the various windows open, all featuring live footage from the Belleville museum’s security. The second thing he noticed was that one of the security cameras was trained on a particular dark-haired woman, dressed smartly in a blazer and pencil skirt. She was busy repositioning velvet ropes in order to redirect traffic throughout areas in the museum. Plagg made an about face, and let out a heavy breath next to Adrien’s head. “You aren’t studying jack shit.”

“She literally works in the museum, Félix, there’s no way I can study the Belleville without seeing her on camera.” Adrien shot his partner a venomous glare and continued to rifle through the security footage. “Besides it’s not like I can trust you to relay any accurate information about her.”

“I have no clue what you are talking about.” Plagg’s facade of innocence was as transparent as the apartment windows overlooking the lazy Parisian street.

“How much of the Grand Opening was bullshit? Marinette making out with Nathaniel in the lobby was a load of crap, she told me herself. The flirting she did with various gentleman? The intimate conversation she had with my Father’s flunky?”

“That conversation she had with your Daddy’s lackey was legitimate. She really was talking to him, and he gave her something, although I wasn’t close enough to decipher what it was.” His expression hardened at that and he added, “You’re being foolish, Adrien, you don’t know where her loyalty lies. She could have connections to your Father’s group.”

“Perhaps.” Adrien folded his hands in front of his nose and stared at the camera footage on the laptop, studying the unsuspecting woman on the screen. She was descending a flight of stairs into the basement, and in seconds disappeared from the sight of the main cameras. “But I don’t think your load of horse shit that night had anything to do with your concerns about her loyalty.”

Plagg heaved through his nostrils, “whether or not I was attempting to sabotage your chances with her is irrelevant, you managed to seduce her just fine.” He added in a lower tone, “what exactly do you want from that girl? Hmm?”

Adrien didn’t say another word on that subject.

“You’re going to hurt her.”

He continued to ignore his partner, turning his attention to a man wandering the Egyptian exhibit on the cameras. “They think they’re so clever with the set up in their schematics, There are several holes in their security, and one of them an obvious set up. I’ve seen this agent before in England.” He tapped a finger on one of the screens where a darker skinned man with brown hair and glasses was standing near a display, attempting to look inconspicuous in street clothes.

Plagg considered the man Adrien was gesturing to for a brief moment before pulling a wedge of cheese from his breast pocket and unwrapping it. “Mr. Lahiffe is looking like a stereotypical Californian douchebag today. Is the American look the best he could come up with?”

Adrien’s permanent cell vibrated on the coffee table, drawing the attention of both men.

“That reminds me.” Plagg struck the younger man across the back of the head, “quit using up all the burner cells to text your Wonder Woman.” He popped the cheese in his mouth, and chewed it indignantly when Adrien only shot him a cheeky grin, like a child caught red handed.

A quick look at the cell had the model making a considering noise.

“What?” Snipped Plagg, having sauntered to the other side of the room to pour himself a glass of brandy from a decanter next to a wine cabinet.

“Nathaniel invited me out for drinks at a nightclub.”

“Hmm.” He gave the brandy a thoughtful sip, and Adrien inquired about his noise. Plagg glanced up and said, “I thought he was more of the laid back nerdy pub type.”

Adrien scrunched his nose, under furrowed brows and rubbed the scruffy layer of stubble along his jaw. Ever since his mandatory vacation he’d fallen into the bad habit of grooming his facial hair only about once a week, and it was coming time for another shave. “I wouldn’t have taken him for the nightclub type, that’s for sure.”

“Are you going to go?”

“I’m not sure,” Adrien replied.

Plagg made an about face and chugged a mouth full of brandy. “For Christ’s sake Adrien, you’ve been moping around this apartment for two months. Get out of here and do something interesting, and stop pining after that damn woman all the time. Invite Chloe along if you have to. You haven’t spent time with her in ages. If you really don’t want to go clubbing, at least go out and do your sneaky thing, and stop doing this!” He gestured at the couch Adrien was stretched across, pillows and blankets pooled around him like a nest, laptop perched on his lap, and a bag of zero calorie snacks sitting on the coffee table next to a cup of black coffee.

“Why Plagg, it sounds like you’re giving me permission to go back to work.” He grinned smugly at his partner from his half turned position on the couch. Plagg had been a constant thorn in his side, forcing him to lay low, and take it easy until his leg healed. His partner was concerned about the long term effects of Adrien’s injury, and worried that the leg wound could be potentially crippling. While all valid concerns, the result was stifling, and it was a miracle Plagg hadn’t noticed his recent late night strolls across the Parisian roof tops.

The other man spat out a string of curse words ending with calling Adrien a lazy vagrant. “Is there anymore coffee or did you drink it all?”

“You come over here and drink my coffee, and my wine, and my brandy, eat all my food-“

“Like you even have any food,” Plagg cut in with just as much contention. “You barely eat enough to retain your muscle mass. And the stuff you do eat is sugar free and tastes like ass.”

“Someone’s in an awful mood,” remarked Adrien.

“I just want to finish this heist so we can get out of Paris. We should’ve been in Barcelona by now.”

“Two weeks, my friend.” He turned back to the laptop and watched the head curator of the Belleville step out of the museum basement with couple rolls of paper under her arm. He pulled a cheap black flip phone from his pants pocket, a cell much different from his personal one, and typed a quick message before hitting send. Minutes later the woman on the screen fished a cell from her own pocket and stared at the illuminated screen.

There wasn’t any audio, but he could almost hear her shriek of irritation anyway, eyes suddenly darting all over the corridors looking for someone who wasn’t there.

A silent chuckle shook his chest and he stilled the muscles in his cheeks before Plagg could spy his stupid grin.

0000

She could literally feel the bass reverberating around inside her rib cage. The vibrations alone made it harder to breath, and when coupled by the nauseating smell of alcohol, sweat, cheap perfumes and the hint of sick, not to mention the stifling heat from hundreds of bodies crammed together in a confined space, it was enough to rob the breath from her throat and make her gag.

The central room of Maison du Chapalu swarmed with people; an outer ring of elevated floor wrapped around the perimeter, kept separate from the dance floor by metal railing set with plexiglass sheets sporting colorful graffiti. The center of the room was a well used dance floor settled in front of an elevated stage at the back where performers and musicians would play, but was currently home to a couple of very lively DJs. The severe low light was broken up only by flashing strobe lights that made Marinette feel sick when she watched them for too long.

Speaking of sick, she was currently suspicious of the residue caking the floor as her heels were catching on something sticky which she couldn’t identify, and assumed was probably a mixture of various spilt drinks and... colorful stomach contents.

Alya grabbed her hips and ushered Marinette through the crowd before she could spend anymore time considering the floor, and Nino followed close behind at the rear keeping a close eye on both women. After weaving through a couple of tipsy clubbers, she realized Alya was steering them towards the bar, and mouthed a “thank God,” under her breath, not that anyone could have heard it even if she’d spoken aloud.

“Nath said he’d meet us at the bar, right?” Alya was speaking right into her ear, just so she could be heard.

“Right!”

The bar was the most expansive thing Marinette had ever seen. About ten bartenders scurried back and forth behind the counter serving up drinks to thirsty patrons, and a scattering of occupied tables, stools and couches took up the expanse of floor before the bar. Marinette tried and failed twice to capture the attention of a bartender, and it took Alya’s boorish personality to belt out an order of two fruity cocktails, and Nino shouted off his own order shortly after. Minutes later a sweet scented drink was thrust into Marinette’s hands.

“Hello beautiful,” she murmured, turning to face the crowd and raising the cup to her lips.

A chill arced down her back.

She paused eyes snapping up when a familiar cascade of chilling cold skittered down her spine, and she got the distinct feeling of being watched. It was a feeling that had been absent for over two months.

It couldn’t be...

Her eyes raked the room, trying to pick out a familiar figure among the crowd, then darting up to scan the various balconies as well. If he was there the club was a helluva place to hide, because the darkness made it near impossible to pick out definite shapes of people, much less blonde cat burglars.

And there were a lot of blonde males.

What are the chances that after two months he would show up here?

This wasn’t a masquerade party, so he wouldn’t be wearing a mask, the thrum of excitement that surged within her at the idea of seeing his actual face was enough to propel Marinette into crowds.

“Hold up!” A hand snapped out and gripped her elbow, hauling her back against Nino whom she about spilled her drink on. “Where are you going, lady? We haven’t even found Nath yet.”

Oh yes, friends. It was fortunate that Nino snapped her from the sudden trance that overcame her. A nightclub was not exactly the best location to go wander off on her own, especially for someone as clumsy as herself.

She took a large sip of her drink, to make the liquid level a little more manageable and followed Nino and Alya through the mass of bodies.

They spotted Nathaniel on a couch in the corner, his copper-colored hair easily recognizable even under the flashy technicolor strobes. He was sitting by himself, feet stretched across the cushions, returning the heated glares from passing patrons who wanted the seating he was hogging. He shot them the same hard look until recognition flickered in his eyes, and a smile took it’s place.

“I saved some seats.” He moved his long legs, much to the displeasure of a passing couple who’d been eyeing the spots earlier.

“What a gentleman,” Alya dragged Marinette onto the couch next to Nathaniel, and Nino snagged the other side.

“I hope you don’t mind, that I invited a friend.” Nathaniel yelled above the din, “he promised to actually show up this time.”

“Are you sure about that?” Marinette grinned at him, playfully tapping his shoe with the side of her own.

“I didn’t tell him you guys would be here, so he’d better show up.” He took a swig from a bottle she hadn’t noticed before, and Marinette followed suit taking another long drink from her own fruity beverage.

She cast her gaze around the room searching the crowds again. It was a continuous exercise in futility, and she chased her irritation with the rest of her drink, before standing up and announcing she was off to get a refill. Nino was up and following after her, promising to get Alya another drink as well.

“Who are you looking for?”

Marinette signaled a bartender, and hissed in triumph when she was successful, ordering a refill of the same drink from before. Nino ordered the same, and leaned on the bar waiting for an answer.

“Nobody.”

He quirked a disbelieving brow, and she saw rather than heard him scoff.

She paid for the drink, and took it from the bartender, glad to have an excuse to keep her mouth busy. Nino eyed her skeptically, then scanned the crowds attempting to spot whom she might be searching for, when that failed he escorted her back to the others in silence. By the time they reached the couch, the chilling burn she suspected was Chat Noir’s presence had completely evaporated, and she assumed he must’ve left the building.

Ah hell.

A swell of disappointment churned in her gut, but she wasn’t able to dwell on it, as a couple of beautiful blondes were now occupying their spots on Nath’s couch.

“Guess who showed up?” Nathaniel gestured to the newcomers. Newcomers that Marinette recognized right off the bat. The first was someone she was very familiar with -thanks to her job- Chloe Bourgeois. The two woman shared a silent exchange, Chloe mirroring the same amount of pleasure in her frown that Marinette felt at the sight of this particular woman. Seated next to her was none other than Adrien Agreste, and if she thought this setting would make her feel anymore relaxed in his presence, she was sorely mistaken. His dark eyes raking over her body caused Marinette to shiver, the back of her neck itching with that tell-tale feeling that she knew him.

Of course he’s familiar, he’s the face of the fashion company you’ve admired since you were a teenager, and the son of a genius designer you’ve idolized equally as long. You’ve seen his gorgeous face on every billboard across the country for the past decade and a half.

Try as she might, and she was trying; her eyes roaming over his coiffed hair and smooth jaw, trailing down his neck to scrutinize his lithe frame dressed in a subtly iridescent purple long-sleeved button down, and black slacks... focus! -that explanation to herself didn’t feel right and there was just something else about him that felt, off.

“Hey Dupain-Cheng! Are you gonna stare at Adrien all night like an imbecile or are you going to have a seat?”

Chloe’s voice broke her from the niggling train of thought, and Marinette’s legs buckled to sit even while no chair was behind her. If it weren’t for Nino, who caught her with an exclaimed, “Woah, there!” She would’ve planted herself right on the nasty feeling floor.

“You can’t possibly be drunk already,” Alya snorted from beside Adrien.

She wasn’t, this was just her normal level of fool made worse by the presence of a man that seemed to unearth her stupid side with a vengeance. Nino pulled up a couple of sticky chairs that Marinette tried very hard not to think too hard about when they took a seat.

A conversation started between the others, or at least Chloe started talking, and Marinette tuned her out to comb the crowds again. You, moron. He’s not here, the last text you got had an area code from Germany. She couldn’t help searching the crowd, almost to spite herself, part of her wondering if she’d actually felt his presence at all, or just imagined it. Another sip from her drink, and the taste of the cocktail wasn’t so pleasant as it had been before.

She pulled out her cell phone, double checking to be sure she hadn’t received another anonymous text. She had not. Thursday night she thought she made a breakthrough with the messages, unearthing a possible code, when she deduced that most of the messages sent were actually song lyrics. The bastard had been systematically texting her romantic and teasingly naughty messages, and they’d been nothing more than words ripped from dated music. If there was some sort of deeper meaning behind the scheme with the song lyrics then she had to admit he had her stumped. Just like with the area codes.

She turned her attention back to the others, noting the way Adrien watched her with dark eyes and a blank expression. It was fleeting, his gaze darting away seconds later to focus on the woman next to him, who was still talking animatedly about something. Chloe didn’t appear too particularly pleased with the club scene and kept wrinkling her nose at passing people, especially any men whose eyes lingered longer than a few seconds.

Alya surged to her feet, smoothing out her glittering burnt orange cocktail dress, before holding her gold bangled arm out to Marinette. “Let’s hit the dance floor before you get too pissed to stand.”

She grinned, glad to have a reason to get away from Chloe, and took her friend’s hand. “I’ve only had two drinks, and I’m far from a light weight.”

Despite Alya’s comment they stopped for shots at the bar before pushing their way towards the dance floor; the guys, and Chloe, were left to their own devices back on the couch.

Dancing was something Marinette could handle. No expectation for conversation, she could lose herself to the music. Like the last few times she went clubbing with Alya the girls danced with each other rather than any strangers.

The suggestive hip swaying, and lewd proximity between the women was nothing more than fun. It was amusing to make the men squirm, and both woman could dance to their heart’s content without giving their partner the wrong idea.

Alya liked it because she knew it made Nino hot and bothered.

Marinette like it because it made her feel sexy.

They fell into a basic two step together matching their movements to the beat of the music and breaking the rhythmic swaying with a dip of the hips.

Not more than a few minutes in a male attempted to join them, subtly intruding their space and trying to match Marinette’s dance movements. She barely gave him a look before maneuvering away to the open space on Alya’s left.

The music was deafening. Rumbling through her bones, and shaking through her legs.

The power was thrilling.

The lights were painting them in splashes of dazzling technicolor, as mesmerizing as the movement around them.

Exhilarating and disorienting all at the same time, and Marinette was starting to feel the warm buzz as the alcohol settled into her system.

Alya hauled her close, manicured nails dragging over her hips while she pressed her lips to Marinette’s ear. “Put on a show, we’ve got an audience.” She jerked her head towards the plexiglass railing overlooking the dance floor, and Marinette couldn't help but sneak a look in the indicated direction.

Sure enough, Nino and Adrien were braced against the railing, holding drinks and watching the girls with admiring smiles.

He was watching her again.

Those green eyes -she remembered their vivid color despite the darkness of the club obscuring them now- following her movements while she moved with Alya.

She hated the way he made her feel, rending away her confidence, and leaving her a stuttering mess. The worst part was that she didn’t even know why this man intimidated her so much. That wouldn’t happen tonight. She was determined to get to the bottom of his curious interest in her, even if it meant getting drunk on liquid courage.

If he was going to watch her she was determined to give him something to look at. Face of a big-time fashion company be damned, tonight she didn’t have anything to lose.

Marinette dropped into a slow grind, and her friend matched her, offsetting her balance when she spun to face her. Her hand trailed down to rest on Alya’s hip, and Alya brought her own hands up to rest on Marinette’s shoulders, the cold metal of the bangles brushing against her collar bones.

Her back was facing the men, but from the smirk that alighted her friend’s features she could tell their little show was working. Nino was probably losing his shit.

There was a bit of a downside to their sultry display.

Unfortunately they’d garnered the attention of sex-starved men around them, be it hungry eyes, or the occasional daring soul who attempted to join them.

This was where Alya -bless her beautiful heart- stepped up. There was the accidental crunch of a heel into toes, or the superior smiles laced with contempt before she moved Marinette away. Alya always had that aura around her, like a wild animal. A trait Marinette envied, but was never-the-less appreciative that her friend possessed.

“Are you girls going to bite me if I butt in?”

Two sets of eyes flickered to their latest newcomer. Nino, handsome as he was but lacking any grace, had wormed his way through the crowd and was standing awkwardly among the moving bodies, waiting for an answer with a dopey grin and ravenous eyes.

“Actually,” started Marinette, “I was just getting thirsty, so you’re welcome to steal my partner for awhile.”

“How fortunate for you,” Alya purred to him, melting off of Marinette to latch onto her fiancé.

The two of them were already lost in each other before Marinette could make it off the dance floor. Her eyes darted along the railing, curious if Adrien was still creeping on her, but she couldn’t spy his familiar form among the crowds.

She only stumbled once on the steps leading off the dance floor on her way to the bar. Given her usual level of clumsiness, she considered this one of her better nights so far. But that would no doubt change when she got as shit-faced as she expected she would tonight.

Marinette spared a glance to the corner, curious how Nathaniel was getting along. He appeared to be occupied with a drink, and his phone. Chloe sat beside him, arm thrown over the couch with a drink in her other hand, while she undressed one of the bouncers with her eyes. There was a small twinge of guilt in her chest at the sight. She invited Nathaniel because she didn’t want to be alone with Alya and Nino, a selfish bid because Nathaniel didn’t enjoy this kind of scene. It did seem he found a kindred spirit in Chloe though. For whatever reason, she despised the setting and was suffering it only because of Adrien. Or at least that was the only conclusion Marinette could come to.

She reached the bar, only to encounter a similar problem from before. The bartenders were ignoring her. The club was insanely busy, and there were many more obnoxious and assertive customers to get their attention, but she started to get irritated after the third time she was passed over.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

Energy tickled down her spine for an entirely different reason that had nothing to do with her sixth sense.

“I suppose.” A thrum of triumph that she was able to speak without stumbling over any words. She wondered if he would suffer the same bad luck as she did.

Adrien stepped a little too close to her for comfort and hailed a bartender, tossing out an order for a drink that sounded entirely too girly to roll off his tongue and yet not, at the same time.

Son of a bitch. Of course the handsome model got their attention.

She watched him, refusing to back away despite the uneasy proximity and when he turned to meet her gaze there was a flicker of something in his eyes.

He passed her the drink, sliding the glass along the counter till it brushed her hand, his other hand crawling up to play with the shorter blonde hairs at the nape of his neck. It was a gesture she’d seen before.

A nervous habit she’d seen someone else adopt as well.

“So how is the Belleville?”

She started at his sudden inquiry. Why did he care about her museum?

He must’ve seen the confusion flicker along her features because he back pedaled. “I’m just curious if my money is being put to good use, since I’m a sponsor now.” Even in the low, flashing light she could see color tinge his pale cheeks.

“Why Mr. Agreste, I’m not here to talk business. If you wanted to do that you should’ve stopped by the museum yourself to speak with my boss, Ms. Felicitas.” Marinette couldn't believe her own audacity, and blamed it on the alcohol coursing through her system. She snuck a large gulp of her newest drink in hopes to keep herself afloat.

He blinked at her and the corner of his mouth twitched. “Fair enough.” He leaned against the bar before he asked his next question. “Will you tell me about yourself? What does Miss Dupain-Cheng do when she’s not running a museum?”

“Hasn’t Nathaniel already told you? I live in that museum.”

“And tonight?” He looked amused.

“Tonight, is an exception. Alya has impeccable powers of persuasion, and I was her victim this time.” Marinette wanted to slap herself on the back. “And you?” It was definitely the alcohol, as she could feel the warmth gliding through her veins, and buzzing pleasantly in the back of her head.

“I would say Nathaniel has excellent persuasive skills, but we both know that’s a lie.” Adrien smirked at her over his own drink, and she couldn’t keep from giggling. “He extended an invitation, and I needed to get out.”

“I take it Miss Bourgeois is with you?” Her eyes flickered to the blonde woman currently making Nathaniel uncomfortable on the couch. He was attempting to do something on his phone, and she was taking an intrusive amount of interest in it.

“I was under the impression that it was just going to be me and Nath, so I invited Chloe along to liven things up,” he remarked, his own gaze never leaving Marinette’s face, and she could almost feel Adrien counting her freckles.

“You and Chloe, the way she talks, you two sound close.” It was nothing but curiosity now. She had a feeling the confusion over who was coming was something orchestrated by Nathaniel. Further cementing her suspicions that he was playing his hand at matchmaker. If Alya was right, and Nath had harbored some sort of crush on her for years, why the hell was he trying so hard to get her acquainted with Adrien Agreste?

“We grew up in the same circles, she’s practically my sister.” He finally turned his face away, and Marinette felt more at ease crowd watching next to him.

She took another swallow of her drink, and delighted in the burn of alcohol. “Does she ever do the modeling thing? She certainly has the looks, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“No, Chloe does her own kinds of things.”

“Chloe being Chloe and doing Chloe things.” Marinette remarked offhandedly. It was a thought she’d had about Chloe often times before, but the way Adrien’s chest shook she assumed he found her words amusing.

“You know her so well already.”

Marinette scoffed into her drink, “Our association begins and ends with my professional life.”

Adrien tilted his head at her, running a shoe over the floor in an idle gesture that had Marinette wondering if he had trouble standing still, “Do you enjoy your profession?”

“That’s getting awfully close to the topic of business.” Work was never a foreign subject for small talk among adults, but she really didn’t want to talk about the activity that took up ninety percent of her everyday life.

“I was merely curious. You said it was your life.”

“It’s not where I saw myself when I was younger, but I don’t have any regrets.” Marinette cautioned a look at him and chose her next words with care. “My career has gotten a lot more exciting lately, and I kind of like it.” She paused before tacking on an, “and you?”

Adrien’s face remained amiably curious until the question about his own work, which made him frown. “I’m on extended vacation for now, but I can’t say I enjoy my career. I might quit altogether. There’s no thrill posing for camera’s and modeling fashion lines.”

“Is that what Mr. Agreste lives for? A thrill?” She shot him a cheeky grin.

He made a pause, considering her with his darkened eyes before answering with a low, “purrhaps.”

She barely heard it above the sound of the music, his register was so low. Marinette swallowed down the last of her drink, then ordered a shot of something mild for good measure, and downed that too.

It took her longer than she would’ve liked to work up the courage. “Does that thirst for a thrill extend to a dance floor?”

“Why Miss Dupain-Cheng, are you asking me to dance?” Adrien’s expression broke into a wolfish grin, and he pushed off from the bar, leaving his bottled drink behind.

“Nino stole my dance partner, so I have to settle for a different one.” She stepped away from the bar as well, grabbing the back of a chair to keep from staggering in her heels, then tried her best to grin confidently at him.

He didn’t seem deterred by her levity concerning the invitation, and held a hand just above her hip. “May I?”

That was when her voice failed her, and all she could do was nod, eyes darting between his face and his offered arm.

Adrien placed his hand against the small of her back and led her out towards the center of the room. “Watch your step,” he reminded, guiding her down the steps with thoughtful consideration.

“What a gentleman,” she teased.

He pulled her close as soon as they stepped onto the dance floor. “As much as I’d love to hit the dance floor with you, I didn’t think you’d meant it literally.” The quirk of his brow accented the flash of white teeth when he smiled at her.

There was something about that smile, something so familiar that did awful things to her heart. “Those good looks were masking a bad sense of humor.”

“Me-ou—How rude.”

Out on the dance floor Marinette assessed the music, a few test steps before falling in time with the beat. It was something she’d done countless times before with Alya, the various times they went clubbing. It was almost effortless to let the music take her now, and her eyes flickered to the male standing ever so close to her side to see if he would match her moves.

He was not.

Adrien stared at her with a curious look on his face, almost as if he were studying her. When it was starting to get awkward, dancing next to someone who seemed satisfied just watching, that’s when he started to move.

And it was awful.

His timing was off, lacking any sort of rhythm, while he stared at her feet the entire time. It had never occurred to her that Adrien couldn’t dance, or that he didn’t even know how to dance. He was trying, bless him. Not once had he claimed he could or couldn’t dance, and had willingly followed her out to the floor despite the potential of fool making. It was actually kind of sweet.

“Loosen up.” She instructed, moving close so she could lead him without having to yell too loudly. She eased her hands to his shoulders, a subtle tug to coax him into fixing his posture, which was stiff as a board. “Look at me, Adrien.”

His chin jerked away from the floor, and although the darkness obscured most of his eyes, she could see the colorful strobes reflecting against the glassy surface.

Her veins felt hot, and her ribs were aching from the bass. It was difficult to focus when her mind swam from the copious amount of alcohol she’d consumed, but she led him into a basic step to the beat, keeping their movement simple, half-steps timed with the music.

He surprised her with how quickly he picked it up.

So she moved on to something a little more complex. “Watch me this time,” Marinette said, before turning her back to him and dipping her hips.

Adrien never stopped moving, even when she began a simple dip and step in front of him. “Keep the same rhythm as before, but move your hips with mine.”

He was silent, but she felt his movement and arced her back into him, feeling the heat of his chest burn against the bare skin on her shoulders. His breath dancing over the skin on her neck and his coiffed hair tickling her ear in a way that almost made her giggle.

“You’re a very good dancer.” His voice low, but loud enough for her to hear. He was matching her movements very well for someone who seemed to lack any sort of experience club dancing.

Her mind was starting to feel hazy, and it took her longer than a minute to spit out a slurred, “thank you.”

Adrien’s hands brushed against her hips, before withdrawing once more, only to whisper, “may I?” into her ear.

There was something about his voice that drew a shiver down her spine, and she was melting back against him until her body fit to his. Her voice failed her once more, and all she could do was nod while his breath continued to fan her neck with fevered heat. At her unspoken consent, his hands settled on her hips, fingers curling against the material bringing memories to surface that she’d tucked away months ago.

Chat’s hands on her hips. His fingers curling against her bare skin. His breath on her neck, and his lips on her mouth.

His voice whispering against her ear, “You’re so beautiful, Chérie.”

Marinette reached a hand up to stroke the side of his face, the lights making her head feel heavy, and her vision swimming until she closed her eyes. She could almost imagine the jaw beneath her fingers was his.

Chat was dancing with her.

And that was his mouth kissing the skin just below her ear, making her breath hitch, and heart stutter.

“Chat Noir.”

“Hmm...?” And she knew that purr.

“Chat...”

 

Chapter Text

Adrien heard Marinette say something over the din of the pounding music, but he wasn’t sure he heard her right. He was actually rather enthralled with her at the moment. She smelled like her shampoo, mint and rosemary, the way he remembered but with a light mix of perfume, just enough to make it new. Then there was the way she moved against him, practically pressing her whole backside up against his front, grinding her ass on his crotch.

There wasn’t enough alcohol in his system to be drunk, but that didn’t stop him from losing a bit of his shrewdness -not that he had much of it around her anyway- and giving into temptation. He placed a kiss on the skin just below her ear, and hummed in question for her to repeat herself. His hands were on her hips, and it was a Herculean effort to keep them from trailing anywhere else.

“Chat...”

Fuck.

That one word, slipping almost breathlessly from her lips, managed to inject his veins with ice water. It took every last bit of his model training to keep from reacting to her utterance of his alias, to keep dancing despite the panic coursing through his body.

Of course she’d figure him out. Marinette wasn’t stupid, she was smart, and strong, courageous and clever. And God was she deliciously sexy, especially right now, grinding on him in ways he had only fantasized about.

She was also drunk; possibly drunk enough to worm his way out of this situation.

“Sorry,” he began, speaking lowly but clearly into her ear, “but I’m Adrien.”

“I know who you are.” Her words held a slight slur despite the severity.

“I’m Adrien Agreste,” he insisted, determined that if he kept telling her that, he could sway her drunken thoughts.

Adrien felt, rather than heard, Marinette make a frustrated noise. She turned in his arms, looking up and fixing him with eyes that were both confused and angry.

She dropped into a slow grind, bringing her arms to rest on his shoulders and her thigh between his legs. Every movement of her hips was rubbing him, very intimately.

“M-marinette?” When he swallowed it was painful, and his throat felt suddenly parched.

“Rotate your hips.” She instructed, her voice taking on an icy quality. “In a circle, just like mine.”

He got the distinct feeling that he was a victim, and she was trying to torture him, but he followed her lead anyway. Desperate to ride this volatile situation out to its inevitably messy end. The new movement was causing friction that was both pleasurable and agonizing. The latter because he was already turned on, and this was making it worse. Much much worse.

The lights washed over them, splashes of brilliance that made the woman before him even more breathtaking than she already was. Adrien feared she might suffocate him because the bass of the music was already knocking the air from his lungs. Her head was tilted back, neck exposed, and her eyes were half-lidded, regarding him with double-edged interest.

His eyes darted over her body, admiring the dress she wore. It was a strapless crimson cocktail piece, lovely lace along the hems, and intricate embroidered floral patterns decorating small sections of the dress, below her arm, on her hip, just above her thigh. There was a newfound appreciation, now that he was aware she made most of her own clothes. Red, really was her color. She may have considered his words to be flattery, that night he stole her ladybug charm, but he’d actually been sincere; even if his compliments had been laced with ulterior motives.

One of her hands slipped up from his shoulder to grip the back of his neck, manicured nails brushing dangerously against his nape. The other dropped to drag over his hip, playfully catching on his belt before moving on and caressing down across his left thigh.

Adrien swallowed, his throat tight and his pulse pounding in his ears akin to war drums.

Her hand stopped over the bullet wound.

There was no applied pressure, no malicious intentions. This was merely a display; she was telling him once more that she knew.

Her thumb made a small circle right over the scar.

Never had Adrien wanted to kiss and curse a woman so much in his life.

Plagg had asked him dozens of times why he was so fascinated by her, and Adrien had yet to formulate an answer. His partner could never understand.

She withdrew her hand and brought it back up to his shoulder, teasing his exposed collar bone along the way.

Because even he didn’t understand.

He ran his fingers up Marinette’s hip, left hand caressing her abdomen before moving on to the small of her back. Every little bit he got to touch her lit a fire beneath his skin, and he wanted nothing more than to draw her into a dark corner and ravish her mouth. He itched to feel every curve of her body pressed so tightly against him, while his hands roamed over her soft and heated skin.

She was lightning, and he would chase her, catch her, and inevitably burn. He only hoped that when it was over, and he was no longer in Paris, he had the strength to climb from the ashes and keep going.

If only he could make her want Adrien instead of Chat, it would solve so many of his problems.

Marinette brought her thigh up, applying more pressure as she ruined the slow grind in favor of startling the heck out of him and drawing a choked noise from his throat.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng!” Adrien stumbled away, breaking the dance and staring at her with equal amounts of shock and arousal.

She didn’t say a word, just watched him with all the darkness of a winter storm.

Adrien met her stare, his expression a perfect mask of confusion even while his heart thumped a million miles an hour. He wasn’t sure what to do in this situation, and it scared him.

And then she deteriorated before his eyes.

It started with the quivering of her lip. Then her whole face crumbled.

One tear after another ran down her cheeks, trailing down till they dripped off her softly curved chin.

She didn’t stay for longer than a moment, drawing a hand up to hide her face, Marinette took off through the crowd, escaping the dance floor and melting into the patrons.

Adrien stood there, chest aching savagely from more than just the unrelenting bass of the music.

The urge to hunt her down itched beneath his skin, crawling over him like fire ants, and it was everything he had to quell the temptation and let her go. Above all else he needed to keep his head, and remain aloof. She was already convinced he was Chat, if he was going to convince her intoxicated perceptiveness otherwise, he needed avoid acting like Chat, acting like himself.

Dancers shot him considering looks on his way off the floor, but he ignored them, pushing past moving bodies as he exited in a different direction than the one Marinette fled. The residue of the floor made for an odd texture beneath his shoes, catching the soles in an almost irritating way.

He spotted Nathaniel in the same place they’d left him earlier, except Chloe was a few shades more intoxicated, and making a nuisance of herself. The art professor looked flustered, attempting to be a gentleman and deflect her heinously forward advances. The moment he spotted Adrien, Nath sprang from the leather sofa and bolted to his side, hands frantically attempting to straighten his disheveled clothing.

“Help me!” Nathaniel hissed once he was close enough for Adrien to hear him.

He spared a look at his oldest friend; she was plastered over the leather making a pouty expression over her escaped prey.

“Chloe seems to have taken a liking to you, Nath.” He grinned in amusement, even though he wasn’t really feeling the mirth of the situation.

Nathaniel gave him a withering expression, and finished tucking his shirt -that Chloe had so graciously wrinkled- back into his pants. “The feelings are not reciprocated.”

“She must be bored if she’s trying to divest you of your clothes at a night club.”

Nathaniel didn’t say another word on the subject, not even sparing the blonde woman a glance over his shoulder. “Where’s Mari? Last I saw, she was with you.”

“Yeah... that didn’t work out so well.”

Nathaniel raised his brows, eyes dropping into a superior knowing look.

“Shut up.”

“I didn’t say a word. I take it she’s still not warming up to you?”

“Oh she warmed up to me.” Scoffed Adrien, he hooked his thumbs into the pocket of his pants, and smiled at Chloe when she waved at him from her spot on the couch. “But for all the wrong reasons and all the wrong ways.”

“What do you mean?” Nathaniel continued to keep his back to Chloe, hoping if he paid her no attention that she might forget about him, and leave him alone.

“After I started dancing with her, she called me by a different name, and started coming onto me.”

“I see.” Nathaniel appeared deep in thought for a minute before asking, “Where is she now?”

“She took off when I insisted she was mistaken,” replied Adrien, his face drawn in a grim line to mask the suffocating pain in his chest.

“Welcome back to the boat, hope you didn’t forget your paddle.”

Adrien quirked a brow at the other man, prompting him to elaborate.

Nathaniel jerked his head in Chloe’s direction and said, “We’re in the same boat once again, we both have women coming onto us for the wrong reasons.”

He had to crack half a smile at that.

“I owe you another apology from before,” started Adrien. “You didn’t have to invite me tonight.”

“I may have overreacted,” the professor confessed, his cheeks coloring while he looked sheepish. “I let my irritation get the better of me... and I might have been low-key worried about you. How’s your leg, by the way?”

“Really good, all things considered. There’s some tightness because I didn’t stretch it before hitting the dance floor, but... still good.” Adrien stretched his left leg out, wiggling it around to assess the feeling once more.

“You never did explain how you hurt it.”

“Can’t tell you,” he deadpanned. “Otherwise I’d have to kill you.”

The two men exchanged serious looks for a moment before Nathaniel broke into a fit of chuckles and Adrien cracked a huge grin in response.

00

The next hour was spent keeping Chloe company, and acting as a buffer between her and the increasingly distressed Nathaniel. The more Chloe had to drink, the more fascinated she became with the art professor and the more anxious he became. It got to the point that Adrien had to sit in the middle of them just to police Chloe’s wandering hands.

Every once in awhile he would catch a glimpse of Marinette in the crowds and at the bar; once she was alone, but every time after that he saw her with Alya or Nino.

Her association with Nino Lahiffe made him uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure how loose her tongue was under the influence of alcohol, and he only hoped Agent Lahiffe passed off any mention of Chat as drunken blather. Adrien wouldn’t have passed it off as nonsense. It was an odd thing for a woman to make mention of a wanted criminal even in an intoxicated haze.

He selfishly prayed Marinette would keep it to herself.

At some point during the night he caught sight of a woman taking pictures of Marinette and Alya. She looked the part of your average clubber, scantily clad in a skimpy dress, much too large purse, and short cropped hair with too much make-up. The kind of individual you might hit up for drugs, she looked like a dealer.

He could only think of one reason a woman like her might be taking cellphone photos of Marinette.

“You’ll have to excuse me; I need to use the restroom.” Adrien lurched up from his spot on the couch, only for Nathaniel to latch his fingers into his sleeve. He spared the man a look.

Don’t leave me with her, he mouthed, eyes wide and desperate.

Adrien had to fight the amused smile that tugged the corner of his mouth, and merely shrugged his apology. He pulled his sleeve from the professor’s grip and headed off in the direction of the bathrooms.

When he entered the hall he walked right on passed them and out the exit at the back. A bouncer with arms as thick as Adrien’s thigh guarded the door. He placed a sizable wad of cash in the bouncer’s hand and was given a nod that assured he’d be allowed back in when he was finished outside.

The late summer night heat wasn’t much different from the stifling heat in the club, but at least the air felt cleaner, and his bones weren’t rattling from the force of the music. The alley behind the club was empty except for the discarded crates from the nightclub stock, and a few trash receptacles. There was a small car parked down at one end, but it looked empty. He made a quick pass over the area to be sure it was clear, even stopping to check the car, which was just as empty.

Satisfied Adrien pulled a small earpiece from a zippered pocket located in the lining of his front pocket. He clicked a small button on the side to turn the device on and send a signal to alert his partner that he was active. Slipping the earpiece on, he braced his arms against the railing and proceeded to wait.

Minutes later a painful static sounded, and gave way to an irritated nasally voice.

“We’ve got a problem,” explained Adrien.

Plagg responded with a muffled scoff.

“One of Hawk Moth’s dealers was taking pictures of the Belleville’s head curator.”

There was a sarcastic hiss in response.

Adrien released an irritated huff, “alright, fine. They were taking pictures of Marinette.”

Plagg muttered on the other end.

“I think they saw me with her tonight; I might have made her a target.”

He wasn’t surprised to hear his partner’s reply, which was snide and sarcastic, until Plagg informed him of another issue that needed dealt with.

“When did Alix arrive in Paris?” He swore under his breath when Plagg answered. “I’ll meet with her tonight after I get back from the club.”

There was another muttering over the earpiece.

“What the hell does she want as payment then?”

The earpiece buzzed with his answer.

“Shit!” Adrien slammed his fist into the railing, then swore again when he hurt his hand and shook it vigorously.

Plagg’s voice buzzed once more.

“No,” he sighed, fingers threading through his blonde hair. “I got this.”

00

Upon re-entering the club, courtesy of the paid off bouncer, Adrien was assaulted with deafening music once more. It took a moment to adjust to the bone vibrating bass, and assertive scent of the establishment, after which he stepped out into the main room only to slam his nose into Nathaniel’s collar bone.

He stumbled back, holding his face, and looking up at Nath with curiosity.

The other man was so lanky, it was very easy for Adrien to forget that Nath was taller than him.

“Alya’s sick.”

“How’d that happen? I was gone for less than ten minutes.”

“Apparently she and Mari started going at it with the fun liquor.” The look of concern Nathaniel wore told Adrien that something else was amiss. “Nino is taking her home, and asked me to take Marinette home, since he can’t handle two wasted women.”

“Where is she?” Panic began flooding Adrien’s system, and the itch to go find Marinette began crawling over his skin again. “Is she alright?”

Nath placed a large hand over his shoulder, to keep Adrien from charging off into the crowds. “She’s with Chloe. Aside from being smashed harder than a vodka bottle, she’s fine.”

“Chloe came with me, so I’ll take her home.”

Nathaniel nodded, letting his hand drop back to his side. “Marinette lives by herself, I’m going to have to stay with her till she’s sober enough to leave alone.”

He looked uncomfortable, which caused Adrien to quirk a brow in question.

After a bit of fidgeting the professor glanced at the ground, “I get queasy around vomiting, and can’t hold my stomach. I might need you to help, in case she gets sick.”

Adrien’s mouth formed a silent oh.

0000

This wasn’t how he expected to spend the rest of his evening.

Fortunately Chloe wasn’t drunk enough to need a babysitter, that aside she had her own staff to look after her. Adrien left her in the competent hands of her butler, while she grouched about how filthy the night club was, and that she needed a shower so hot it could melt steel.

Now he was in Marinette’s bathroom, holding her hair back while she emptied her stomach into the toilet basin.

Nathaniel was in the kitchen, most likely pacing, if his footsteps against linoleum were anything to go by. Adrien asked him to remain on standby with a fresh towel, and water.

Plagg would no doubt have some strong words for Adrien when he returned home in the morning. Especially since he had prior arrangements after he was done at the club, which he flippantly disregarded.

Now he was spending the night at Marinette’s apartment with Nathaniel.

Marinette heaved again, and Adrien cringed, using his free hand to rub her back.

When she finally recovered enough to breathe her elbows were quivering against the porcelain from the strain of holding herself up. He waited five more minutes to be sure the vomiting had subsided before using a wash rag to clean the sick from her chin. She slumped against him, smelling of night club, and alcohol, and... other stuff.

“Now it’s me, taking care of you,” he murmured, too quiet to be heard outside of the bathroom.

She looked up at him with tired glassy eyes and an expression so sad his heart clenched. “Chat...” she pleaded.

He didn’t have the heart to deny it this time.

“I’m right here, Chérie.” His fingers threaded through her sweat-soaked black hair, pushing it back and away from her face, while her cheek fell to rest against his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

Adrien had a feeling he was partially to blame for her current state.

“I shouldn’t see you anymore,” he murmured. “It’s too dangerous.”

“It... wasss always too dange’ris,” she slurred out.

“Not like this. It was a game before.”

“Well...” she trailed off with a long pause before continuing. “You won... I fellll in love... you.”

Adrien’s body rooted to the floor, and not for the first time his veins felt like they flowed with ice water. He held her, cradled to his chest and swore she could feel the way his heart hammered against his already sore rib cage. A cocktail of emotions swirled around in his head, but nothing he was prepared to sort out at that moment, so he swallowed them down and settled for denial instead.

After a moment of silence, he forced a chuckle and said the only thing he could think of to protect himself. “No. You didn’t, Princess. You’ve just had waaay too much to drink.”

She didn’t respond.

Minutes later he realized she’d passed out.

Nathaniel was waiting in the living room when Adrien came out of the bathroom carrying Marinette in his arms. She was cradled tight against his chest while he made sure his steps were as careful and light as a feline’s to keep from jostling her

The other male had made himself useful, and the couch was already made up with blankets, a pillow, and a bucket in case Marinette got sick again. He was wringing his hands and looking very pale when Adrien laid her across the cushions and pulled the blankets over her legs.

“You don’t have to stay anymore,” started Nathaniel in a shaky voice. “I-I think I can take it from here.”

“It’s fine,” Adrien sighed, sitting on a familiar lumpy old ottoman. “I didn’t have any plans tonight anyway.”

Nath took a seat in a nearby recliner. “Is she ok?”

“Yeah, just passed out. We need to check her periodically to make sure she’s still responsive and breathing properly, though.”

“I take it, this isn’t your first time dealing with this sort of thing?”

Adrien glanced up from Marinette, and reached for the remote on the coffee table. “No,” he replied, while he turned on the television. “It’s not.” The chatter of a news network helped ease the tension in the room.

“...thank you, Agreste.”

He couldn’t stop the snort that escaped in response to Nath’s shy but formal appreciation. “Don’t mention it.”

“I’m serious,” Nathaniel insisted. “You didn’t have to stay and help me.”

0000

The phone alarm sounded like a car alarm in her brain, the pain crashing over her in waves that made her stomach turn. She smashed a hand against the cell on her nightstand repeatedly until her fingers swiped the right spot to shut it up.

Even the silence of her bedroom was painful.

And her tongue was dry enough to scrape like sand paper against the roof of her mouth.

Only the ingrained responsibility to get up and go to work convinced Marinette to climb out of bed. Her first attempt to stand was thwarted by the spinning of the room, and it was only by sheer luck on her second attempt that she made it to her feet. The throbbing in her brain, akin to a mallet behind her sinuses, followed her from the bedroom down the hall and into the kitchen where she drew a glass of water from the tap.

Her body ached, and the room spun so much Marinette was forced to take a seat on her couch in the living room. Her first sip of water resulted in a sharp turn of her stomach. Every little sip after that was an effort too great for the reward being merely water.

It took longer than it should have to down the first glass, and it took even longer to convince herself to get up and fetch a second one. About that time Marinette realized she was still wearing her clothes from the night before and dragged herself back to the bedroom to change out of the stained red cocktail dress. Once she had the dress was stripped off, Marinette decided it was too much effort to put on clothes, and pulled a robe on instead.

Before heading back out to the kitchen she stopped by her bed to collect her phone. That was when she noticed a glass of water on her night stand.

There hadn’t been a glass of water on her nightstand for over two months. Not since her unexpected house guest.

She wracked her brain in an effort to puzzle out how she made it home from the club. Everything was a hazy blur, and Marinette couldn’t even remember what all she did the night before.

She vaguely remembered dancing with Alya, then the talking with Adrien at the bar.

Marinette stumbled back out to the kitchen, drawing yet another glass of water before settling onto the couch to think.

She’d danced with Adrien.

Marinette felt her mind sluggishly cling to that train of memory. The pain of her hangover lanced through her brain, even whilst she placed her head against the arm of the couch.

I danced with Adrien...

When her own memory failed to produce anything else she pulled out her phone to text Alya. To her surprise there was already a text from Nino asking how she was feeling and if she made it home safely.

‘I’m home. Whether or not it was a safe trip can’t recall,’ she texted him, and wondered if he was awake or not.

He was, because she received a prompt reply, ‘Nathaniel took you home. Hope that’s alright. My hands were full of Alya.’

‘How’s she feeling?’

Shitty.’

Marinette cracked a quarter of a smile and replied, ‘same.’ A minute later she sent another text, ‘what happened last night?’ She figured if anyone could fill in the blanks it was probably Nino.

Not sure what happened before Alya found you. Do you remember crying?’

She did not.

I was crying?

Just a bit. Nothing bad. They were pretty tears.’

Marinette got the mental image that Nino was gesticulating wildly while trying to assure her it wasn’t as bad as it sounded.

What was I crying about?’

Not sure. You weren’t very clear on that. After Alya calmed you down, you two started getting creative with the mixed drinks.’

Oh no.’ That would explain why she couldn’t remember much of anything. ‘It didn’t get crazier did it?’

No, just loud. And flirty.’

Marinette breathed a sigh of relief, resting the phone against her chest and closing her eyes. It occurred to her that it was Saturday and she didn’t have to go into work. She was almost surprised by how relieved she felt to come to that conclusion.

Not more than a second later her phone vibrated with another text from Nino.

Got a question though.’

Shoot.’ She prompted back.

You aren’t still convinced Adrien Agreste is the infamous thief Chat Noir are you?’

A little flicker of memory resurfaced, and Marinette felt the bottom of her stomach drop out.

I accused Adrien of being Chat Noir.

Embarrassment washed over her as sober Marinette had serious doubts about the validity of drunken Marinette’s accusations. 

Chapter Text

“Did you have a nice night, Chat?”

Adrien wasn’t as surprised as he should be to find Alix Kubdel and his partner chilling in the living room of his apartment when he returned home.

It was almost six in the morning, he and Nathaniel had stayed at Marinette’s until just after five, when they were sure she was well enough to leave on her own. Adrien carried Marinette into the bedroom before they left, tucking her into bed and making sure to leave a glass of water on the nightstand for when she awoke. The two men parted ways after that, and Adrien headed home to confront his no doubt, irate partner.

“Not particularly,” he responded, shucking off his shoes before closing the front door.

Plagg sat on one of the recliners in the living area, while Alix perched on the back of his sofa in a ready to move kind of way. Almost as if she were anticipating to take off running at any given moment. It wasn’t surprising, given that she shared his line of work, except Alix was more interested in time pieces rather than cat related objects.

His partner made a condescending, sympathetic noise. “Was the curator not as spectacular in bed as you were hoping she’d be?”

“What curator?” Alix was suddenly far more interested, lurching up with a start.

“That’s none of your business.” Adrien snipped. He darted his glare towards his partner, fixing him with a warning look. Plagg appeared to take the hint, because he dropped the subject.

Alix darted her eyes back and forth between the two men, before relenting. “Fine, keep your secrets, I’ll find out on my own anyway.”

“You wanted to discuss payment, yes?” Adrien addressed the woman.

Alix was a tiny woman, her body slender but toned. She had sharp features that matched her piercing pale eyes. Adrien would’ve never called her beautiful in the usual feminine sense, but she did have a certain attractiveness about her that appeared to emanate from her assertiveness; almost as if she were ordering you to take a second glance at her. Alix's hair shone in the muted fluorescent light, a shifting mass of browns, reds and golds that Adrien would have sworn was the work of an expert beautician, except that he knew Alix was far too lazy to put that kind of work in. No, Alix's stunning color, a chameleon blend as mercurial as the woman herself, was all natural.

And if her demeanor wasn't enough to convince you of the color's authenticity, then the cut was. There was nothing artful about her tangled bob. The locks were windswept and finger-combed, choppy enough to blend in with the younger crowd, but Adrien’s cynical view of her had him believing that it was far more likely she simply took a knife to it when it got in the way.

Alix’s Father had worked at the Louvre as a director for most of his life, before he retired. Adrien wondered how the man would react if he ever found out his youngest daughter ranked just under Chat Noir on Interpol’s wanted list.

“It’s time to pay the piper, Chat.” Alix smiled devilishly. “I’m sure your partner told you what I’m interested in.”

“It’s part of a private collection, not an exhibited piece.”

Alix shot Adrien a bored look that was more unnerving than it should’ve been due to the pale coloration of her irides. “And is that a problem?”

He only paused for half a moment before replying, “No, not at all.”

“I didn’t think it would be. For a thief of your talent, this should be child’s play.” Her look of mockery and the condescension dripping from her tone was enough to make Adrien’s skin crawl. There was nothing easy about stealing from a private collection. They tended to have tougher security, more focused on protecting a single vault or room rather than the contents of an entire complex. “Get that for me, and I’ll consider us even for all that parading I did across Europe, pretending to be you.”

Adrien looked past the other thief, to his partner busy stuffing his face with pieces of cheese he often stored in his pockets. It was fortunate the cheese he kept in his pockets tended to be the harder and less smelly kind.

“Plagg, why is she in my apartment?”

The round man looked up from the wax paper wrapper, and chewed with a slow, thoughtful consideration, as if Adrien might lose interest in the answer if he took long enough providing one.

Alix was the first one to speak up. “Found him at a cheese shoppe and followed him back to your place. I let myself in through the balcony.”

The two men exchanged looks, a silent indicator that there was going to be a heated discussion when the female finally vacated the premises. For once, it was the older gentleman looking ashamed and embarrassed.

0000

Her office was still a mess, maps and markers strewn over every surface, looking like something out of a conspiracy theorist film.

She wasn’t sure if she’d ever be ready to confront Adrien after the fiasco at the night club. Every day leading up to Wednesday night was spent fretting over everything she said to him on Friday, and all the things she couldn’t remember saying to him. Whatever transpired between them that night had been enough to bring Marinette to tears, or so Nino claimed, which was never a good sign. If she never had another run in with Adrien Agreste, it would be only too soon.

Here Marinette had promised she wasn’t going to make a fool out of herself. So how had her alcohol impaired brain thought accusing Adrien of being Chat Noir was a good idea? How had she even came to that conclusion?

Marinette couldn’t recall.

Chat wouldn’t sponsor a museum, especially one he wanted to rob. A thief wouldn’t live such a high profile life, posing as the face of an extravagant fashion company. Adrien was so completely filthy rich; she imagined he could roll hundred euro bills, smoke them, and then pave the Parisian side streets with his pocket change. He had absolutely no reason to be a career criminal. No reason at all to be the infamous Chat Noir.

The only conclusion Marinette could draw that would cause her to mistake Adrien for Chat was their uncanny resemblance. Both were handsome blondes with green eyes, charming smiles, and cut jaws. But aside from the physical, their similarities ended there. Chat might as well be a Casanova -or catsanova, a term he would no doubt coin for himself- he was flirty and shameless enough, sporting an awful sense of humor, and a mischievous streak a mile long. Adrien was far more reserved, the brief encounters Marinette had with him left her with the impression of a polite and an awkward conversationalist. A gentleman with manners who asked permission before touching a lady.

Marinette closed out of her computer Wednesday evening feeling just as perplexed as the previous days. There was an email sitting in her inbox from Juleka, it was a memo reminding Marinette that Agent Lahiffe made an appointment with her for Thursday morning to go over some security footage of the parking garage. She wasn’t sure why he needed to go over it with her, and what significance it had, but programmed a reminder into her phone calendar so she wouldn’t forget.

A sweep of her office resulted in nothing out of place, and the swell of disappointment that followed was becoming just as routine as the expectation of something out of place. There hadn’t been a mysterious text from Chat for days, which was equally disappointing, even as she was reluctant to admit it.

“Well you certainly make it easy for him, Marinette.” She grumbled under her breath while gathering her purse and cell phone.

The Belleville was quiet when she exited her office and locked the door behind. All the other offices in the wing were dark with shut doors, the rest of the museum staff had gone home hours ago leaving the building with an empty and ominous feeling. The night guards were already on shift, and no doubt making their rounds about the building.

Marinette didn't like leaving the office so late because it meant traversing the parking garage when it was the most dark and vacant. Something that never got any easier, especially after making the acquaintance of a wanted criminal. Meeting Chat Noir and being dragged into his world, however peripheral, had driven home the realization that not only were there dangerous people out there, but they moved around with far more ease than she once believed.

She also had to remind herself that other criminals were not as benevolent as Chat seemed to be.

If he even was.

Her heels clicked sharply against the marble tiles, and the night guards bid her goodnight on her way out the lobby. Marinette returned the farewell with an amiable smile, darkness greeting her when she exited the front of the building and descended the concrete steps toward the garage. There was no anxious feeling of being watched, nor skittering chills down her spine. Only the usual din of the city that felt muted against the silence of the deserted premises.

The Panda was sitting by itself in the parking garage, looking as pathetic as it usually did with the sizable dent in the roof. Coworkers would occasionally inquire about the damages, and her explanation was always that someone had dropped a planter on it from a window sill; so far, everyone had bought the lie.

“Chat should be paying to fix you.” She whispered to the steering wheel when she settled into the driver’s seat. Not that she would ever accept anything from him, especially money.

The car groaned to life when she started the engine, and Marinette headed for home. Another night convincing herself that life had gone back to normal, and the little spree of extraordinary circumstances was over.

Maybe Chat decided to leave her exhibit alone.

She scoffed at herself for thinking it even for a second.

He decided to leave you alone, Marinette. It’s only a matter of time before he moves to rob your museum, and when he does he’ll either succeed and vanish without a trace, or he’ll be caught, and you’ll watch the police cart him off to prison. Either way, you won’t be seeing him again.

While she mentally berated herself, the rest of her was on autopilot, hands steering the car down the usual roads, turns, and intersections, eventually down side streets and passed buildings that were looking increasingly unfamiliar. The usual street signs fell away to be replaced with foreign ones, and the billboard advertisements were new, sporting different messages and products.

A strange perfume ad prompted Marinette to wrinkle her brow and finally swerve to the curb and stop.

“Where am I?”

The buildings around her loomed, it was a section just at the edge of a quieter commercial district, moving into a ritzier neighborhood with huge expensive houses. The farther you moved in the larger they got; streets lined with the equivalent of small mansions.

While the buildings instilled a feeling of foreboding, telling her she shouldn’t be there, that she had no business in this district. It was ultimately the tickle of anxiety on the back of her neck that captured her attention. A chill so delicate, she could have mistaken it for her own fear, skittered up her spine. It melted away only to leave her with a feeling that barely tugged at the edges of her consciousness; so fragile and shapeless that if she focused too hard it was drowned out by her other senses.

She started her car again, trying to clear her mind enough to get a sense of direction. The subtle beckoning prompted her to start down the streets again, making turns and changing directions akin to following an invisible trail of wisps.

This wasn’t the first time she’d felt or done this, she realized. It made her curious and a bit frightened about what was prompting it now.

Ten minutes of losing herself in a rich neighborhood, and feeling completely at odds, finally yielded and she pulled to a stop in front of a gorgeous white building. The entrance, blocked by a little fence, led into well kept shrubbery with a pathway of set stones lit with tiny electric lamps. It left off at a large heavy looking front door, framed on either side by enormous pillars that held up a balcony on the second floor. Glass windows made up large sections of the building, and they were all dark, with curtains pulled over most of them. Wrought iron railing, weathered and aged stood out against the pale color of the house, hinting at a myriad of little places someone could access the building from the roof.

“Oh hell.” Comprehension settled over her with all the weight of a landslide of bricks. Minutes later she was swept off to sea with a wash of ice skittering down her back, and she knew.

Marinette stepped out of her car despite every fiber of her being telling her to get back in the Panda and leave. The last thing she wanted was to be roped into Chat’s criminal activity, and yet she could not quell the curiosity and earnest desire to see him again. Her eyes were already scanning the exterior of the building to the best of her ability, narrowing in on any places that could serve as a possible entry point. Unfortunately there were so many. If he was already inside the building when she arrived, or if she managed to arrive in time to thwart his attempt, would remain a mystery.

She never saw him actually break into the complex, nor exit, instead he walked out of the darkness of an overgrown copse of Italian cypress. The inky black of his suit crawling out of the shadows as if he’d simply sprung to life from them in that very moment. His boots made only a whisper of noise when they connected against the white iron fence, and he climbed over the small obstruction with all the fluid motion of a liquid. Even as she watched him, Marinette was positive she’d never be able to describe to someone exactly how he did it.

“Princess,” he started, voice low and severe, lacking any of the warmth it usually held when he spoke to her. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”

“I want to ask you the same question,” she snarled back, working away from her excitement to see him again and warming up to a seething temper. “But I already know exactly why you were in that house.”

A faint sneer pulled at his mouth, “Do you now?”

There was a pouch cinched to the side of his belt that Marinette has never seen before, the material strained with the weight of an object no larger than her fist, but certainly heavy. She pulled her scowl away from his belt and narrowed it on his unusual cat eyes.

“What did you steal?” She made sure each word was enunciated and clear, even as she spoke with enough venom that it tasted harsh even in her own mouth.

Chat made a noise of dismissal, “And incriminate myself? Any thief worth his salt wouldn’t go about admitting all his foul deeds.”

“So you did steal something.”

“Purrhaps.” He made to move passed her, not committing to an actual answer. “Maybe you’ll read about it in the papers.”

“It’s pointless running.” She stated, feeding a swell of provocation that had no real foundation. “I feel you. I can follow you.”

This was a lie on so many levels. Her sixth sense was fleeting and errant at best, and tonight was a peculiar occurrence that she presumed happened because he had unconsciously projected a bit too strongly. She had barely any practice tracking him, and only the most ignorant understanding of how. This man had countless years of experience evading people when he didn’t want to be found, and regardless of their supernatural link, if Chat wanted he could vanish without a trace.

And yet her words brought him to pause mid-step, twirling on his heel he faced her, toxic chartreuse eyes gleaming with a mischievous light. He took a deep stride towards her, causing Marinette to stumble back against her Panda until he crowded her into the cold surface. Alarm bells chimed in the back of her mind, warning her that this wasn’t the charming and sweet Chat Noir she’d grown so accustomed to, tonight he felt dangerous, almost feral.

He bent his head regarding her with a guarded expression before speaking in a low register. “Will you follow me?” It wasn’t a superficial request, she could hear the undertone laced in every word, challenging her to give chase.

Chat didn’t wait for an answer. He was off in an instant, gliding over the dated cobblestone street like an apparition before dissolving into the shadows of a stone wall.

Her chest heaved, releasing a breath she didn’t realize she’d even held. When she sucked in new oxygen it became painfully obvious how much her head was spinning with a mix of anticipation and anxiety.

Did he realize how scared she was? Of him, the circumstances, what he may or may not have done, the implications of following him?

She caught sight of him again, morphing out of nothingness at the end of the street, stepping just far enough under a street lamp for her to make out his silhouette. Although she couldn’t discern from the distance, Marinette got the feeling he was watching her, waiting to see if she’d rise to his bait.

“I am an incredibly stupid woman.” She was climbing into her Panda, and starting the engine, just as he scurried out of sight around a corner. A moment of concentration, visualizing the roguish cat burglar in her mind’s eye, and she could feel the indistinct sense tugging at the edges of her consciousness. It was stronger than before, almost like he was calling to her this time, which made what she was about to do even more reckless.

Because he was leading her someplace, and she was foolish enough to indulge him and give chase.

Chat made sure to stay out of sight for the next quarter of an hour, forcing her to strain her sense to follow him. He lead her up and down streets, clearly cutting a path to get as far away from the location she’d found him as possible, and eventually dumping her off in an empty recreational area. There was a park nearby and daytime shops, long since closed for the night; aside from a sprinkling of lamp posts, the neighborhood was dark.

The urge to turn down a narrow alley next to a darkened ice cream parlor made her hesitate. The alley was dark, the shadows so thick that she couldn’t see anything from the street she was currently on. And yet the tugging on her consciousness encouraged her to keep going.

Marinette tried to convince herself this was an awful idea, and she shouldn’t be following Chat Noir into dark alleys, that she shouldn’t be feeding her curiosity on a whim.

Another minute later the little yellow Fiat Panda turned into the alley and bathed the narrow passage with its dim little head lamps. There was another vehicle parked at the other end, the light from her car barely illuminating the silhouette of the vehicle. The alley was narrow enough that once she reached the other car, she wouldn’t have any way to exit except to back out the same way she entered.

Not daring enough to box herself in she only brought her car forward another ten feet, just enough to shed light on the other car and determine it was a black Jaguar.

“You led me to your car...?” Marinette felt thoroughly confused by this turn of events.

When it was clear she wasn’t going to move any farther down the alley, the head lamps of the Jaguar shone to life, bathing the alley in a whole new blanket of light, and blinding Marinette for a good minute.

By the time she recovered, shielding her vision from the continued blinding light, there was a man’s silhouette sitting on the nose of her car. He looked for all the world like he belonged there, casually stretched over the hood, waiting for her to step out.

Marinette revved her car, prompting the Panda to let out a loud rumble that was more of a lazy groan.

He didn’t even flinch.

When it was clear he wasn’t going to move, and the chase was over, Marinette finally popped open her car door and leaned on it. Using it as a barrier to keep distance, in case something foul was afoot, and she could easily hop back inside her car and throw it into reverse.

So, you wanted to take me behind an ice cream shop and show me your car?”

Chat shifted on her hood, the light from his Jaguar continued to make it difficult to see him.

“More than that, Chérie,” he purred, sounding pleased more than anything else.

“Can you do something about your head lamps? They’re blinding.”

Chat must’ve had certain functions of his car on remote control, because seconds later the light from his Jaguar dimmed, and the alley became discernible again. Objects, and trash receptacles bathed in a cold white glow.

“How did you do that?” Chat asked.

Marinette felt a swell of irritation at his purposefully ambiguous question. “Do what?”

“You followed me,” he clarified. “I knew your powers were extraordinary, but this is fascinating. I’m curious what the limits are, and how accurate you would be had I not made it so easy.”

“I’m not some science experiment that you can toy around with, Chat Noir.”

“Of course not,” he slipped off the hood of her Panda to stand on the other side of the open car door. “Forgive my ill-mannered curiosity.”

Marinette leaned into the door and did her best to glower at the man standing teasingly close to her. “I have some questions for you, and this time I expect some answers.”

“Despite my partner, and every bone in my body, telling me to leave you the hell alone, I too want to speak with you. Although, as far as timing goes, tonight wasn’t preferable. But c’est la vie.”

“Are we going to have this conversation in the middle of an alley?” Even as dark as it was, there was the ever present threat that someone would stumble upon them. Chat wasn’t wearing the most unassuming attire, and his pretentious Jaguar made for an odd sight facing off against her dented bright yellow Fiat Panda. If they didn’t look downright suspicious in the alley, they were still incredibly comical looking.

“I was hoping I could take you someplace more, private.” Chat leaned in when he said this, his mouth mere inches from her nose, and his arms folded across the top of the door.

“Am I following or is this a kidnapping?” She quelled the temptation to retreat back and looked him square in the eyes, tilting her head back and bringing her own nose to level with his.

“Hmmm... Nonne mē crēdis?” His mouth pulled into a Cheshire grin.

Haud.” She answered flatly right back, not even missing a beat.

It was enough to startle the usually composed Chat Noir. His head jerked back, his eyes going wide with a mixture of astonishment and admiration.

“What? You assume I didn’t learn Latin working in a museum?”

The noise of admiration that escaped his throat held a velvet quality. “You are remarkable, my lady,” he purred, seeming to recover from his initial shock. “If you wish to talk, I invite you to join me in the Jaguar. If not, we part ways here, and I let you go.”

She looked him up and down, brows drawn with suspicion. “Why can’t I follow you in my car?”

Chat spared a look at her Panda. “It’s a little conspicuous.”

Marinette made an about face, “and your Jaguar is not?”

“It’s not yellow.”

He had like half a point.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she muttered under her breath. Chat Noir stepped back as she killed the engine on the Panda, collected her keys and slammed the door, locking it. When his face broke into a victorious smirk she reached out and jabbed him in the nose with the tip of her car key. “Don’t get any funny ideas. I still have a cell phone, and pepper spray and I can bite you.”

“You have my word; I’ll be nothing but a perfect gentleman.”

Gentleman be damned, the moment she reached his car and wrapped her fingers around the door handle, a thrill shuddered down her skin and through her bones. It was exhilarating and sexual all at once. Chat was already in the driver’s side, waiting for her, and it was only a second more of hesitation before she pulled open the door and settled into the passenger seat.

Gorgeous leather caressed the exposed skin of her calves, and she couldn’t help but run fingers over the surface, taking guilty pleasure in the smooth, cool texture against her skin. His Jaguar smelled amazing, a mix of leather and spice reminiscent of Chat’s own scent, bringing her back to the time in her apartment when his smell was trapped in the fabric on her bed.

The interior lights shut off, and they were bathed in darkness so thick it was stifling.

“Your seat belt, Chérie.” It was only from the indirect glow of the head lamps that she could make out his presence, bits of light reflecting off the surface of his suit.

Marinette’s hands moved on their own accord, snapping the belt in place and Chat wasted no time starting the engine and backing out of the alley. He took to the streets of Paris with a kind of leisurely pace that felt contradictory with the speed and power of the feline themed vehicle.

Never in her life had she been in a car so luxurious, everything about the Jaguar so much more spacious than her cramped little city car. The sexy midnight hood reflected the city lights in a pattern more dazzling and mesmerizing than even the colorful strobes at the night club. Her mind began to wander in the space of the silence, going so far as to entertain self-indulgent fantasies of Chat Noir pushing her down across the hood of his car and proceeding to ravish her.

It was fortunate that the car’s interior was so dark, because she was sure the skin on her neck, ears, and cheeks had flushed a brilliant shade of crimson.

“Where are we going?”

“On a date,” he responded smoothly.

“I’m serious.” There was a bubble of amusement at his audacity.

“Someplace beautiful and quiet that I’ve ached to take you for a long time now. But I’d like it to remain a surprise.”

“You’ll have to forgive my skepticism, but you are a wanted criminal. I can’t help but imagine you’re taking me someplace sinister.”

“Then you shouldn’t have gotten in the car with me.”

He had a point, as much as she was loathe to admit.

“I haven’t seen you since... how is your leg, Chat?” Marinette almost brought up his stay with her but she didn’t want to talk about that time in her apartment, still too afraid to ask the potent questions.

“Healed,” he replied, then added, “I owe you a debt of gratitude for that.”

“You could fix my car.”

The bark of laughter that escaped his chest made her smile as well because they both acknowledged the absurdity of her request.

“If only you would let me,” he murmured.

“What if you paid me back with one straight up honest answer?”

He quirked a brow at her, regarding her momentarily from the corner of his eye. “That would depend entirely on the nature of your question. There are some subjects I will not divulge the truth about, my business tonight being one of them.”

Well drat. She bit her lip in disappointment but quickly recovered. “How were you sighted across Europe the past two months, and how did you commit those robberies?”

“That’s two questions, and neither of them are any of your business. Try again.”

“When are you robbing my museum?” She tried once more, feeling even less confident about this new question, but still holding out hope.

“Whenever I feel like it.”

“Are you still planning to rob it?” She tried again.

Chat’s chest was vibrating from hardly contained chuckles. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Marinette felt a surge of irritation with him, that he was laughing at her. “This isn’t fair,” she pouted, arms folding over her chest indignantly.

“Life’s not fair, Princess. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” His sudden declaration was followed up with a flash of teeth and the car fell abruptly silent.

It took Marinette a moment to piece together why that sounded so familiar. “You took that from a movie, you dork.”

“That is a distinct pawsibility,” he drawled.

She may have cracked half a smile, but she was still frustrated trying to think of a question he would actually answer.

Silence fell between them, and time flowed by like water slipping through her fingers, until an hour was gone and Chat brought the Jaguar to a stop. The area was dark with many trees, shrubs, and old stone work, but it was not an area she recognized, made even harder to place in the dead of night.

Chat turned on the interior lights just long enough to reach behind them and pull a tiny but expensive electric lantern from behind her seat, then snapped them off again.

“I’ll have to carry you the rest of the way, if that is alright?”

“And I can’t walk because...?” Even though he couldn’t see her expression in the dark, she still hoped her tone sounded disbelieving.

“There is climbing involved.” Continuing with his charade of purposely vague responses.

“This sounds illegal.” She had the feeling she was starting to sound like a wet blanket.

He made an amused noise. “I can assure you, Princess, it is not.”

Rather than provide him with any sort of verbal approval, she pushed open the car door and came to stand by the nose of the vehicle. The late summer night air was warm, bordering on uncomfortably so, but the isolation and pitch blackness of the area -illuminated only by the faintest light from a waxing gibbous moon- prompted her to unconsciously hold her arms as if for warmth. Chat Noir came to join her moments later, the miniature lantern fixed securely to his belt and shining with a heavenly white glow that bathed them in comforting light and pushed at the inky night shadows around them.

“I’m going to bend down on one knee, and I’d like you to climb on my back and wrap your arms around my neck.” His instructions were calm and spoken with a kind of tenderness she had not heard since their time back in her apartment.

There was a brief surge of modesty and embarrassment about her skirt when she slipped her arms around his neck and let her weight settle along broad, defined, and erotically attractive shoulders. His hands moved behind her legs to pull her off the ground and hike her farther up his back when he stood, claws brushing ever-so-slightly against her skin in a pleasant way.

He made a few practice movements to be sure she was securely attached then asked, “are you ready?”

“Y-yes.” And she couldn’t hide the shiver of excitement that coursed through her body and bled into her voice.

With that confirmation he took off at a run. The sudden movement was enough to make Marinette’s stomach clench, her arms tightened around his shoulders and she buried her face in the messy blonde hair at the nape of his neck.

Chat was remarkably agile, living up to his alias and racing the short distance through the trees with ease before coming to a halt on the edge of a sharp drop. “We’re going to descend a wall now, so don’t let go.” When she secured her grip around his neck he turned, locking his clawed-gloves into the grooves on the top of a wall before letting his body drop over the edge, starting down the old stonework structure.

She felt a new appreciation for his lithe body and controlled movements. Chat was so careful, his claws digging around the masonry, boots finding solid footholds, able to scale the sheer surface even with the added weight of a woman on his back.

His footing only slipped once, to which Marinette let out a startled cry before he quickly recovered. He spent the following minute completely still, whispering comforting words and praise until her death grip on his neck relaxed a fraction. When he began moving again her heart rate had returned to a normal level.

She knew the moment his boots touched solid ground, and her body practically melted off his back, settling to the ground on her knees. A vivid green blanket of grass and ferns served to cushion her from the earth, and for the first time Marinette stopped to take in their surroundings.

They were in an old abandoned and completely overgrown railway.

Towering stone walls ran parallel to the tracks, which cut a long path below the ground level of the surrounding area. The tracks eventually disappeared into a tunnel, the mouth of it hanging with a curtain of what appeared to be ivy. What would have been a skin-crawling creepy experience was made into something extraordinary as the surface of the stonework was overgrown with vines, moss, and ferns, and the area above them a canopy of thick trees and shrubs. It was like sitting in the middle of a secret garden lit only by a lantern and the moon in the sky.

Chat Noir knelt down next to her, placing a gentle hand to the middle of her back.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

She had to take a second to find her words but finally managed to ask, “What is this place?”

“It’s the Petite Ceinture located in the Parc Montsouris.”

Her brow furrowed upon recognition. “That’s the abandoned railway with the tunnels full of rats.”

He let out an amused chuckle, “then it’s fortunate we won’t be traversing the rat infested tunnels.”

She shot the ivy-curtained mouth in the distance a wary look and made to stand up. One of her heels tangled in the ferns, and Chat’s hands shot out to steady her as he stood as well. Her cheeks heated when he didn’t remove his hands, choosing instead to maintain their proximity while his cat eyes appraised her, blazing green admiration.

“You wanted to talk,” he prompted, his voice lower than before.

“Yeah,” her voice coming out breathier than intended. “This is going to sound strange, but I need to put a niggling suspicion to rest.”

He grinned, gazing at her beneath lidded eyes. “Are you using your honest answer card?”

“Yes, and this time I’d better get a real answer,” she groused.

“Carry on then.”

Marinette sucked in a breath. “You aren’t Adrien Agreste, are you?” She kept her eyes fixed to his face the entire time, searching his features in the low light for any possible tell.

Chat’s brows quirked. “You think I’m some gorgeous blonde model? My lady, I’m flattered.” He pulled a hand from her elbow and made a dramatic gesture against his chest.

“Chat!” She hissed in warning.

“No,” his tone took on a serious quality. “I’m not Adrien Agreste.”

Damn. She bit back the bitter disappointment of wasting her only straight answer on that. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Hmm?” He cocked his head to the side in thought. “Oh. Nothing, I just wanted to see you again.”

Did he realize how much he affected her? A blush threatened her cheeks all over again and this time there was no convenient darkness to hide it.

“Then may I ask another question?”

Chat took a step back retreating towards the wall behind them, pulling Marinette along with him. “You may.” When his back reached the wall he led her to stand between the toes of his boots.

“Those text messages you sent me, why the song lyrics?”

“You’re so clever to have figured me out.” He praised and the compliment sounded genuine, “It was a safety measure, in case any of the messages were intercepted. Song lyrics don’t contain a speaking pattern or any relevant details that could be used against me.”

He really knew how to take the wind out of a girl’s sails. She swallowed back the lump of disappointment not for the first time that night. “So there wasn’t any meaning behind them. No secret code to crack. You were just messing with me.” Marinette’s teeth clicked when she set her jaw, her disappointment just starting to stoke the fires of a temper.

“There was meaning in them, Mari.” Chat, gripped her chin pulling her to meet his toxic eyes. “Every, single, word, I meant them.”

Her eyes went wide and her throat ached with the implications. “Chat...” just like that her anger dissolved to a longing so acute it made her chest ache. This thief had stolen her heart, made her fall in love with him, and she could never tell him.

He dipped his posture until his messy bangs brushed against her’s. “Princess, may I kiss you?”

All she managed was a nod, voice failing her not for the first time.

Kisses in the Petite Ceinture Chat’s mouth closed over hers, it was soft and teasing akin to the first night he ever kissed her, managing to rekindle a flame so hot she wanted it to consume her. But unlike that night so long ago, this time it wasn’t a ploy to steal from her.

She didn’t fight-couldn’t fight the urge to fall into him, and he pulled her close, his arms encircling her waist to pull her into a kiss far more heated. He took advantage of the breath that escaped her to slip his tongue into her mouth and muffle her pleased moan.

There lips parted and she could’ve sworn the world spun right out beneath her; except that cold stone hit her back and grounded her again just long enough to realize he’d pressed her up against the wall. Then he was kissing her again with the same fervor and intensity, his mouth moving roughly against her own, teeth catching her bottom lip in nature to the growl that spilled from his throat.

“I want to keep you.” His voice came out in a husky tenor.

She didn’t answer because she didn’t have one. He didn’t expect one.

Chat’s claws came up to pull her hair from the messy bun she’d kept it in all day. His fingers threaded through the dark tresses while his other hand cupped the side of her face, thumb making circles over the blush on her skin.

His leg moved between her thighs, pressing her up the wall a fraction of an inch, enough to apply friction at just the right spot.

Chat...”

Claws dropped from her cheek to grasp the back of her thigh and hike her knee up, so she could hitch it over his hip. Chat usually kept himself in check, always careful to control his every movement -but when he lifted her off her feet with such laughable ease until she was straddling his waist- it was merely a glimpse at his impressive strength.

And she thought she wanted him.

The leather catsuit had to be painfully restrictive for him, because he was very hard, and it was pressing into her.

Marinette arched her back, and the roll of her hips brought a gasp from his throat, effectively ending their kiss only for him to latch his mouth onto the skin at her neck.

He bit her, and she loosed a moan into his ear.

“Chat... Ah!”

He rolled his hips to match the movement from her, the friction causing jolts of pleasure to crackle through her body and make her skin burn with a want so intense she couldn’t see straight.

They may have been outside and in an abandoned railway, but she was seriously considering throwing caution to the wind and letting him take her right there. Against the wall, on the ground among the ferns, hell, she was almost so far gone she wouldn’t have cared if her took her across the railroad ties.

Chat’s tongue lathed soothing passes over the abused skin on her neck, placing one last kiss before trailing nose and lips down the front of her throat until he reached her collar bone. Proceeding to press kisses along any of the exposed skin he could reach.

Tonight was every guilty fantasy brought to life, and if her own hands hadn’t dropped to run over his abdominal muscles before resting at the top of his belt, she probably would have drowned in him.

A brief wash of clarity.

He might have robbed her senses, but she had just enough left to try something underhanded when her right hand brushed against the pouch on his belt. If she could just loosen the ties that kept it cinched, she could find out what he stole.

Chat must’ve caught onto her, because the moment her fingers brushed his belt, his hand flew from the back of her head to snatch her wrist.

He stopped kissing to fix her with a reproachful look.

“You can’t fault me for trying.” She looked sheepish under his disapproval, and her voice was uneven while she caught her breath.

“Using your kisses to lure me into a trap?” Chat’s voice was just as effected, the corner of his mouth pulling into a smirk.

With gentle consideration he eased her back to the ground, putting only centimeters of space between them, but enough to dampen the intensity of the heat.

Trap. The memory of the Agents working with Max rose to the surface. She had no business divulging any information to him, and surely he already knew. The image of Chat being taken away in cuffs caused her throat to ache; she wanted him to be free. The naive part of her wanted to believe that if he knew there were traps he wouldn’t chance the museum robbery. That he would count his losses and move on, find someplace else to loot.

“D-Don’t rob the Belleville, Chat.”

“Any particular reason why?” He didn’t seem to be taking her seriously. “Because we both know you aren’t going to like my answer.”

She was going to hell for this. Sacrificing her loyalty because she was in love with a rogue.

“Because Interpol has been setting a trap.” This was stupid, she was being dumb, and she didn’t know how her conscience would ever let her live with this. “They know you want the Bastet statue, and they’re using it as bait.“

Chapter Text

Marinette pushed the door closed, sliding the deadbolt home with a careful consideration that was completely at odds with the butterflies rioting in her stomach. She turned, slumping against it with a sigh, her head tilting back to collide with the wood in a muffled thump. Her eyes slid closed, her teeth worrying her already tender lips as she relived that fantastic kiss - kisses! - for the hundredth time.

It might have been her imagination, but Marinette swore she could still taste him on her lips. She could still smell him, a cloying mixture of sweat and musk and leather and something that was his own unique scent. Could still feel him pressed up against her, hands flexing as he kissed his way across her skin. She’d wanted more of it - craved more of it - but really, she had only herself to blame for cutting their...activities short.

It still agitated her that he clearly filched something tonight, and she had no idea what. It was one thing to know the man you were head-over-heels for was an infamous cat burglar; it was quite another to catch him in the act of burgling and not be able to do a damn thing about it.

“Why yes, Chat, it offends me that you burgled something from someone, please go take it back.” She snorted at herself. “What did I expect?”

A glance at her cell informed her it was after three in the morning. Marinette acknowledged the need to sleep because she had work in a few hours, yet she had serious doubts sleep would claim her so easily. Not when she could still feel his hands on her, his lips and the taste of his breath on her tongue; see his toxic eyes when she shut her own.

She thought of Nino, of Tikki, of her job, the museum and the exhibit she spent so long organizing and running. Chat was strangely unaffected by her warning, not that he didn’t express his gratitude. But he seemed more concerned that she would divulge such information to him, than he was about the information she divulged, and she got the feeling he wasn’t the least bit dissuaded from robbing her museum.

This rubbed her in all the wrong ways, and only managed to drive her mad wondering what exactly his angle was.

When he returned her to her car, his bid of farewell had been to lift her off her feet and kiss her so fiercely that she forgot how to breathe or even why she needed to. Then he dropped her back to earth, knuckles brushing along her jaw while the look in his eyes made her feel like the most precious treasure he’d ever acquired -and Marinette had to remind herself she was not, that she was merely another notch in his belt.

There was no promise to see her again, but he also didn’t say goodbye.

There was no finality about their parting.

And that may have been enough to give her hope.

0000

Thursday morning, eleven o’clock sharp, Agent Lahiffe was waiting for her when she entered her office.

He didn’t remark about the dark circles under her eyes, or the delicate fashion scarf (horribly inappropriate for the late summer heat, but concealing bruises that make-up failed to hide) coiled around her neck, nor her sluggish surprise to find him sitting in her office. Instead, he sat in her guest chair with an impassive expression, laptop already set up on the spare desk, and all her maps moved neatly to the side.

Agent Nino Lahiffe wearing a gun holster“Good morning, Miss Dupain-Cheng.”

She ran her eyes around the rest of the room, before landing them back on the sharply dressed Interpol Agent. “Where’s your partner?”

“He had other business to attend to,” Nino said smoothly, leaning back and dusting imaginary lint off of his jacket as he studied her covertly.

The use of her last name coupled with Nino’s very business-like behavior immediately put her on edge. Something was not right.

“Ok.” She moved to take a seat in her own chair, swiveling it around to face him. “You wanted to go over some security footage from the parking garage?” Her mind began tumbling over itself, a million miles an hour with all the grace of a caffeinated gremlin, desperately searching her memory for any reason the parking garage could be significant.

“Yes,” he shot her a smile that never reached his eyes, it was meant to pacify her, but it had the opposite effect. Nino clicked the space bar on his machine, and the screen blinked to life displaying a still shot of the empty garage, the angle focused on her solitary Fiat Panda.

Marinette swallowed, and her throat felt dryer than a desert.

“This footage was taken the night of the unfortunate robbery here at the Belleville. I’d like you to take a look at this bit I found.” His tanned finger tapped the play button on the footage, and Marinette watched the time stamp begin rolling in the corner.

A minute passed with no significant activity on the security footage, and then she saw herself on camera, running for her life, fumbling with her keys, practically tearing the door off her own car before settling behind the steering wheel. There was a subtle illumination that she attributed to her cell phone, and though it was difficult to make out from the grainy footage and distance, she appeared to be staring at the screen for several minutes.

Marinette watched herself slam her forehead into the steering wheel before climbing out of the vehicle and racing back towards the museum.

“At this point it’s clear you’re already aware of the robbery, but you didn’t call the police, not yet anyway. The time of the call made to report the robbery doesn’t match with the time stamp on the footage. And then we see you run back into the museum.”

He looked at Marinette over the rim of his glasses, all traces of her friend replaced by stoic inquisition.

She could feel the blood drain from her face, and her whole world went cold. Nino must have combed over this footage a hundred times, he would’ve seen what happens next. He knew.

Marinette couldn’t bring herself to say anything, not yet. Instead she watched him skip forward fifteen minutes, resuming it right before a man entered the footage dressed from head to toe in black leather, sporting faux cat ears and a tail. She wanted to tear her eyes away, and yet like watching a horrific train wreck unfold before her, she couldn’t.

The man on screen was carrying her in his arms, the way a man might carry a bride, and he dropped her off next to her car, where it was clear words were exchanged before he kissed her knuckles and promptly took off.

She wanted to slap herself for standing there, looking so dumb and dopey on film. And all she could do was shrink farther into her seat as the incriminating evidence played on the screen before her.

“The time of the robbery report takes place just before you show up on camera with Chat Noir.”

Silence. It was everything she had to keep from vomiting.

“Marinette, why didn’t you mention him earlier?”

“...He rescued me.” She finally tore her eyes away from the incriminating evidence on screen, only to stare at her hands while they made nervous fists in her skirt.

Nino breathed a sigh, hand reaching up to tug the spectacles from his face so he could massage the bridge of his nose. “This is all off the record for now. I came here without Agent Haprele because I wanted to hear your side of the story before jumping to conclusions.” He looked back up at her, thumbs fiddling with the frames of the spectacles he had yet to return to his face. “What happened that night, Marinette? Why did you return to the museum? And why did Chat Noir bring you back to your car?”

There was a long permeating silence that stretched between them, Marinette grappling desperately to think of how to explain the scene on the security footage, and Nino waiting patiently, wearing an expression that was betrayal mixed with concern.

“I locked myself in the maintenance closet that night,” she started, her own voice so small and strained she was barely whispering. “I must have beaten on that door for twenty minutes before someone let me out. Before, Chat Noir let me out. Nino, I-I think he only let me out because there was a robbery taking place, and they would have heard me if I’d been left in there.”

“Go on,” he prompted. She found it unfathomably kind that he wasn’t jumping to conclusions, and was waiting for her entire explanation before asking anything. And yet, she could see the myriad of questions dancing behind his amber eyes.

“As soon as I got out, he grabbed me. I didn’t know who he was at the time, I s-swear to God I didn’t.” Marinette inhaled a shuddering breath and choked on it.

“What happened after he grabbed you?”

“He hid me.” She took another breath attempting to fight back tears and the clenching anxiety churning in her stomach. “The burglars were passing through that section of the museum, and he forced me to remain silent, and kept me hidden until they passed. I got the sense that he wasn’t working with them, b-but I couldn’t be sure.”

“It’s unlikely Chat Noir was associated with that burglary,” Nino confirmed. “It wouldn’t fit his M.O. He’s not known to work with groups, and hasn’t shown any interest in the types of objects that were stolen that night.”

The fact that Nino divulged this information helped ease some of the tension. “Once the armed robbers were gone, he turned me around to speak to me, and I realized who he was because of the... costume.”

She thought she saw him crack half a smirk, but his face was impassive again half a second later.

“We exchanged some words, and he implied he wasn’t there to steal anything that night, he was waiting for the Egyptian exhibit.”

Nino nodded, finally returning the spectacles to his face. “He would’ve been casing the museum.”

“That was the conclusion I came to as well,” she whispered. “H-He ordered me to remove my shoes, because they were too noisy, then led me through the museum. He said he was taking me someplace safe, b-but I didn’t trust him. S-so I hit him over the head with one of the rocks from the display case.”

That got Nino’s attention, the agent suddenly jerked his head up, eyes as wide as saucers and slack-jawed.

“I tied him up,” Marinette stated resolutely, “and left him. That’s why you see me on camera running to my car. B-but...” she choked on a sob, feelings of guilt, and emotions from the memories choking the breath from her already constricted chest. “I just couldn’t do it. He saved me... twice, and I knocked him out and tied him up. So, that’s why you see me running back inside, it’s because I let him go. After that, he was grateful enough to carry me out of the museum. I didn’t ask. He just did it. The hand kiss was...”

She trailed off trying to think of how to explain that gesture.

“It’s part of his persona,” offered the Agent.

“...yes.”

The chair creaked beneath Agent Lahiffe’s weight, settling with him as he leaned back and folded his arms behind his head.

“You don’t believe me do you?”

“Actually,” he started. “I do.”

Marinette blinked at him.

“Everything you told me fits the Chat Noir we have on record, right down to the ridiculous hand kiss I saw on camera.” His eyes grew hard when he fixed Marinette with a look. “What I want to know is why you thought Adrien Agreste was Chat Noir, that night back at the club.”

“I-I don’t remember.” Marinette flushed, eyes dropping in mortification. “I’m actually embarrassed about accusing him... I really don’t know what came over me.”

“We’ve started a background investigation on him, so far we haven’t unearthed anything,” Nino said casually, though his gaze was steady on her.

There was a ripple of simultaneous relief and disappointment, and she cursed herself for it.

“Have you had any further contact with Chat Noir, following that night?”

Marinette curled in on herself all over again. She already sacrificed her loyalty by warning Chat about the trap, and she couldn’t bring herself to sink any further. Her conscience absolutely refused.

“Yes,” she confessed, the words tumbling out of her mouth before she could consider them. “He shows up occasionally to mess with me, flirt, taunt, steal things, take your pick.”

“Interesting.” There was absolutely no inflection behind the word, only careful consideration, which perversely agitated Marinette even more.

“Am I going to be arrested?” She finally spat out the question that had been plaguing her mind the entire time. The evidence on camera was not enough to convict her of any sort of crime, but she also had no idea how much Nino actually knew of her involvement.

“No, but this behavior isn’t something characteristic of Chat Noir,” Agent Lahiffe mused, leaning back in his chair. “He doesn’t normally fixate on one person. Has he been pumping you for information about the museum?”

“Actually... no.” Marinette shook her head. “Not that I would have said anything, if he had.”

“And the chances of him showing up again to see you?” There was a glint in the agent’s eyes, a shimmer of gears working, clicking, and turning behind his carefully crafted dispassionate expression.

“I’m not sure,” she hedged, suddenly wary of this turn in the questions. “He comes and goes arbitrarily.”

“And if Chat Noir does engage you again, how confident would you be in your ability to persuade him to follow you, or at the very least stall him?”

“So, you’re using me as bait?” Now she really was conflicted. Caught between doing what she knew was right, and doing what her heart thought was right. Not that she trusted her heart - clearly it was biased, ready to burn her and her integrity on the altar of a love that would never be fully reciprocated.

"Look," Nino said firmly, frowning at her as he peered over his glasses, "I know this isn't what you want to do, but this is what I need you to do. And it's what you need to do, really, to make sure that this all plays out in the best possible way. Do what I ask, and not only will you not be involved any more than necessary, but we'll do our best to make sure that Chat is given a completely fair trial.

"It's to his credit, really," Nino mused, leaning back in his chair as he continued to study her closely, "that he hasn't ever hurt anyone - has gone out of his way, in fact, to make sure that you were safe, even when he didn't need to. Why is that, I wonder? I mean, it didn't benefit him to do so at all, but he did it anyway."

Why... why was a very good question. One that she didn’t even have a proper answer for.

“As benevolent as he appears to be, Marinette, I need you to remember that Chat is far more cunning than he lets on. The man has a knack for manipulating people to suit his own purposes.”

It took everything to keep from barking in laughter, going so far as to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from doing so. Chat oozed cunning and guile from every pore in his body, if he were concealing more of it she doubted there was any man left.

“Okay, Agent Lahiffe,” she relented, not that she was in a position to refuse the Interpol agent. Not without drawing more suspicion down upon herself. “What would you have me do?”

0000

That evening a news report aired detailing the theft of the Medici’s Clock from a private Parisian jewel and artifact collection. The artifact was an incredibly old and priceless Italian pocket watch, encrusted with jewels, and an intricate gold design. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The residence it was stolen from was in the district she’d been in the night before, not the same house she’d assumed Chat Noir to have broken into, but very close to it. As of yet, they had no suspect for the robbery, and Marinette could only stare at the television, her anger seething all over again.

“That... bastard.”

0000

Friday rolled around and Adrien was wound up tighter than a clock.

His head was telling him to leave her alone. His continued association with her, both as Chat and as Adrien was putting her at risk and jeopardizing his job.

His heart had other ideas: memories of the heated moments between them plagued him. The press of her lips against his, the way her thighs clenched over his hips as she panted against him. He found his fingers flexing without consent, longing for the feel of her skin. It took more than he cared to admit to carry on with his duties and ignore the temptation to seek her out, heated fantasies of a weekend lost in her eyes dogging his thoughts.

Plagg had gotten sick of his nervous pacing and kicked Adrien out of his own apartment, telling him to go find something productive to do.

How he ended up in Marinette’s parking lot with Nathaniel at six o’clock at night was rather complicated and another story all together.

“I really appreciate your attempts to help me,” Adrien started, pivoting his weight between feet, the extent of his nerves made present in his idle gestures. “But I don’t think this is a good idea, Nath. Marinette doesn’t want to see me, and I think its best I leave her alone.”

“Why the sudden disinterest?” The professor eyed him skeptically.

“I’m not disinterested,” he protested, “if anything I’m crazier about her than I was before. I just don’t think...”

Nathaniel cut him off with a roll of his eyes. “So go up to her apartment, and return the necklace. You don’t have to invite her out for dinner, just talk to her.”

The necklace in question was a lovely gold chain with a garnet colored stone settled between two pearlescent white stones. Not an overly remarkable piece, only common jewelry; it was the necklace Marinette had worn with her dress to the night club.

Nathaniel had found it in his car after taking her home. How she managed to lose it was a mystery to both men, but his grand idea was to have Adrien return it to her.

And Adrien spent the last twenty minutes dragging his feet on it.

After his Wednesday night with Marinette in the Petite Ceinture, it became clear to him that trying to romance the curator as both Adrien and Chat was turning into a disaster. His original plan was to warm up to her as Adrien, and make it easier to woo her without all the cloak and dagger attached to his mask. But she wasn’t warming up to him, in fact every step he took towards her was met with two steps back.

And those steps back brought her falling into Chat Noir’s arms.

At this point if he wanted to preserve his secret identity, he needed to ditch this scheme with Nathaniel.

That left the conundrum of how to do so without clueing the art professor in on his double life.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” The disbelieving look Nath was giving him only made him grasp for straws.

Uselessly Adrien’s mouth opened, closed, then opened again. “What if she thinks I took it?”

He swore Nathaniel almost snickered at him, but the man swallowed instead. “If you don’t give it back to her, I’m going to tell her you took it.” Copper brows rose with a look of challenge, daring Adrien to make it come to that.

Checkmate, he had no retort for that. If Marinette thought he took her necklace it would bring the whole charade down around him. She already suspected he was Chat Noir, and Chat Noir had a history of filching her neck ornaments, this would be the last piece of the puzzle.

Adrien snatched the piece of jewelry from Nathaniel’s hand and hissed, “this is blackmail.” Only to watch a smug grin overtake the other man’s features.

When he turned and started for the apartment complex he was certain Nathaniel muttered something under his breath, too quiet for the blonde model to hear.

00

“Why doesn’t she have a damn elevator?” Granted the stairwell felt twice as tall when he’d traversed it with a wounded leg, but the time spent climbing each individual step only provided him with the time to fret over everything that could go wrong.

If he were smart, he would’ve just ditched the necklace, dithered until an appropriate amount of time passed, then told Nath he returned it and called it good.

But he didn’t.

And now he was standing in front of her apartment like the biggest fool in the world, attempting to talk himself out of knocking on her door.

She’s going to feel me, and it’ll all be over. It was a catch twenty-two. Either she was going to find out the moment she opened the door, or Nathaniel was going to incriminate him.

“I should just take my chances with Nath; at least then there’s the possibility she’ll just assume Adrien is an asshole,” he grumbled to himself as he stood outside her door, nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

And yet his knuckles rapped against the door all the same, heart staging a mutiny and causing hand function to completely bypass his brain.

A full minute passed with hardly a sound from the other side of the door, and when another thirty seconds slipped, he had to remind himself to breathe.

She’s not home, I tried. Valiant effort, now get out of here and go tell the ginger-haired asshat.

The apartment door clicked open, prompting him to swallow his heart and practically gag on it.

“A-Adrien?” Marinette stepped into the threshold, arm bracing against the frame of the door, looking genuinely surprised to see him.

Because why wouldn’t she be?

“Hey, Marinette,” he drawled, slipping into a smooth greeting, flashing a practiced toothy smile, the kind that made the usual ladies swoon. Meanwhile the rest of him anticipated the worst. What had he come up here to do again? There was definitely a reason he knocked on that door.

Her brows pulled together with a puzzled expression. “Can I h-help you with something?”

There was that stutter, the one she adopted whenever it was him. Almost as if she found him intimidating, and he couldn’t fathom why.

His hand began patting the pocket of his jeans, reaching into the material to extract the necklace he was supposed to return. “I just stopped by to give you something...” Adrien trailed off, eyes falling away from her face to take in the rest of her appearance.

She could’ve draped herself in burlap and he would’ve been enamored with her, as it was, she was dressed casually in a nightgown that stopped mid-thigh, and a pair of cotton sleeping pants. The kind of clothes she wore when she had no place to be, and the intention of hanging out in her apartment. Which he only knew because of his short stay in said apartment.

But none of that was the cause of his throat clenching, or the way his pulse chased through his veins like bolts of lighting, heart hammering so hard against his rib cage that it punched the breath from his lungs and caused his hands to shake.

Marinette didn’t seem to notice his sudden loss of composure, her arm falling from the door frame to hug her chest modestly. “I-I owe you an apology,” she blurted out. “Last Friday, at the club, I said s-some inappropriate things to you. I was really drunk and...”

She continued to babble out an apology, but he wasn’t listening.

His attention was absorbed by the ornament hanging from a black velvet choker on her neck.

His ornament.

His bell.

It was the bell she swore she’d tossed out like all the other meaningless gifts he showered her with.

Except his bell wasn’t meaningless.

That night came crashing back on him.

It was the night he’d first decided to pursue her, leaving his calling card hanging off her neck, a gesture meant to infuriate her as much as it was to claim her.

She knew what it was supposed to mean, that she belonged to Chat Noir.

It was selfish, because he was selfish.

And there was only one reason she’d be wearing his bell right now.

Adrien didn’t pounce on her, but his feet moved on their own accord, closing the distance between them. Everything else fell away, and he forgot who he was supposed to be, all that mattered was the woman before him, staring at him with blue eyes more beautiful than any sapphire.

“Adri-mmfff?!”

Then he was kissing her.

His lips crashed down on hers, raw and intense, a helpless outpouring of all of the emotions clogging his throat. Her lips tasted of a sweet red wine - had she been drinking some before he arrived, or was he simply intoxicated with her? - as his mouth desperately coaxed her into reciprocating the kiss.

A sudden stinging pain cracked over the side of his face, causing Adrien to stumble back a few steps. Eyes wide and fingers gingerly rubbing the throbbing flesh over his left cheekbone.

“What the hell are you doing?” She all but spat the question at him, face flushed with mortification and disgust.

“I... I...” he began. The reality of the situation coming back to him.

Marinette brought her wrist across her mouth, wiping the unwelcome kiss from her lips.

He took a step towards her, a river of apologies ready to spill from his throat... and was met with the door slamming dangerously close to his nose.

The click of the lock echoing louder than a gunshot in that moment.

“Fuck.”

00

Nathaniel had a million questions written all over his face when Adrien came barreling out of the building like someone set his pants on fire.

“What happened?”

“She slapped me.” He darted past the other man, hands fumbling with the handle of his silver Aston Martin.

“What?” Nathaniel choked. “I sent you up there to return a necklace, what’d you do?!”

Adrien wrenched the door open, falling into the driver’s seat and barely glancing at his flustered friend. “I kissed her.”

“You kissed her?!” Something in Nathaniel’s brain appeared to break, trying to comprehend how Adrien went from returning a necklace, to kissing the woman, and getting himself slapped in the process. “I don’t understand, what were you- where are you going?”

Adrien jammed the key into the ignition and turned it, the engine on his vehicle rumbling to life. “I need to go,” he stated, “I’ll talk about it later.”

The car door slamming shut cut off anything else Nathaniel was about to say. His foot struck the gas pedal, and the silver car launched out of the parking lot with a mission.

A sputtering copper-haired art professor left behind to stand incredulously in the rear view mirror.

00

Adrien brought the Aston Martin to a screeching halt next to his Jaguar, practically rolling out of one vehicle and into the other with the boneless grace of a feline.

Never had his leather catsuit given him so much trouble.

Had anyone been in his private garage -and had the windows not been tinted- it would have been quite a sight to watch the blonde man writhe around in his passenger seat, attempting to cram an incredibly painful hard-on into the pants of an unforgiving material.

Several strings of colorful profanity later, a moment to catch his breath, and a failed attempt at composing himself, Chat Noir assumed the driver’s seat of his signature vehicle, threw it into reverse, and narrowly missed clipping the door of his garage.

Once clear of the structure, he slammed the car in to drive. The Jaguar’s wheels keened against the pavement, clawing for traction as it sped off down the twilight-painted Parisian streets.

He circled her neighborhood twice, buying for time but doing nothing to quell the burning want consuming him from the inside out.

Then parked the car a couple blocks from her apartment complex, scaled the side of the closest building, and darted off along the roof tops.

He ignored the way his muscles protested, ignored the stiff and dull pain in his left leg every time he leapt a gap between structures. The quivering of his limbs a testament of his still recovering stamina, and physical prowess.

Claws raked a chimney stack, boots skimming down across roofing tiles.

He was dropping onto the railing of her juliet balcony, boots wedging between the iron, a shadow perched outside her living room window against the quickly waning light.

The lock on the window was laughably easy to pick and Chat Noir pushed the glass doors open, letting himself into the dimly lit room.

A quick sweep of his surroundings confirmed she wasn’t in the front of the apartment.

“Marinette,” he called, his voice hoarse sounding even to his own ears. “Mari.”

Roughly an hour had passed since showing up at her doorstep as Adrien, he hadn’t even entertained the possibility that she might’ve dressed and left.

She hadn’t.

The sound of bare heels against the hard flooring preceded the woman’s face poking from around the corner leading into the hall. Dark hair spilled over her bare shoulders, and those blue eyes he adored so much sparkled with a volatile mix of confusion and elation.

She was happy to see him, a stark contrast to the greeting he received without his mask.

“Chat?” She called back, stepping into the threshold of the living room, a glass of wine in one hand, the other nervously fingering the gold bell hanging off her neck. “What are you doing here?”

She was still wearing his bell. Desire punched through him, almost visceral as a barely contained growl rumbled in his chest and arousal washed over him anew. Chat crawled over the arm of the couch akin to his namesake, over the cushions, before crouching on the tired old ottoman.

“I wanted- needed to see you again,” he rasped out.

“How did you get into my apartment?” Her eyes darted around him to the open windows leading out to the iron railing; railing that framed a section of balcony no bigger than a catwalk, and that housed a couple of potted plants. “You picked the lock on my windows?”

“I have the keys to the city.” He spread his palms before her, clawed fingers curling to allude to his exceptional dexterity.

She looked genuinely surprised. “You used your claws?”

“Oh no,” he amended, flashing an amused grin. “I have lock-picks.”

She settled against the frame of the hall entrance, a coquettish smile playing at her lovely pink lips, and took a long sip of her red wine only to analyze him over the rim with a poorly concealed intrigue. “So why did the elusive Chat Noir need to see me this evening? You’re getting better at concealing your presence, I can’t feel you tonight.”

Chat chose to ignore her question, and settled his focus instead on the subject of her marvelous ability. It was curious, because he wasn’t doing anything consciously to block her out, in fact he wanted her so badly he was surprised she didn’t feel it pulsing under her skin. He should’ve been projecting so loudly that it called her like a siren song.

“I’m not doing anything,” he murmured, and his eyes followed the glass of wine that she began turning between her fingers. A curious niggling feeling overcame him while he watched the red liquid swirl inside the crystal. A theory taking shape that he wanted to put to the test... but another time.

He snapped his gaze back to the bell at her neck. “Princess, I thought you threw it away.”

Her free hand left the glass, snapping back to her neck to clutch the ornament decorating her exposed collar bones. A rosy blush, that had nothing to do with the wine, stained her cheeks, crawling down her neck and settling across freckled shoulders. How she managed to look so modest and yet devastatingly attractive would continue to astound him.

Chat crept ever closer, slipping off his perch on the ottoman to take tentative steps toward her. Closing the distance separating them as carefully as he could, determined not to lose himself and make the same mistake twice.

“You kept it,” he whispered.

Still holding the bell, she offered him a coy smile. “I wasn’t expecting you to turn up tonight... but I was still thinking about you.”

That simple admission made his heart skip several painful beats.

“I couldn’t stop thinking of you either,” he confessed, offering up a sliver of honesty. “I’m sorry for showing up unannounced, I-I can leave if you’d like.” It was the last thing he wanted to do; anticipation hung thick between them, leaving the air charged in its wake. But he felt like he should offer her this last out - a graceful retreat from whatever it was that was surging between them, before something happened that neither of them could take back.

“Hmmm,” she hummed, “it would be best for us both if you did... but Chat,” she pushed away from the wall and took her own step towards him, “I’d like it if you’d stay.”

Breathe. He reminded himself desperately. Breathe before you pass out from self asphyxiation.

“I gave you that bell because I wanted you to be mine,” he confessed. He took another stride further, and had to bend his head to meet her eyes, her face upturned to match his gaze.

“I know.”

                                Kisses

The last quivering, tether holding him back snapped like a rubber band, the sting of release eliciting a choked noise from him. Chat Noir slipped the wine glass from her hand and placed it on the entertainment center behind him. With that last obstacle out of the way his hands were free to do whatever they liked, and he picked her up, pulling her into his embrace, nudging her back against the wall and closing his mouth against hers.

He swallowed the desperate moan of his name on her lips, coaxing her mouth to open for him, and when she did, slipped his tongue inside to savor the lingering wine on her breath.

She was kissing him back, matching his intensity blow for blow, teeth, lips, tongue, angling her mouth to pull him just a little deeper, and kiss him just a little harder.

He wasn’t consciously aware of when her hands reached his hair, but slender fingers were taking fistfuls of his blonde locks, yanking almost painfully so, and it made him want her more. His own claws hooked behind her thighs, pulling them up along with her to straddle his hips, only to rake over the material of her nightgown and bunch it up around her stomach.

The material of his gloves made contact with her exposed skin, and if his mouth wasn’t otherwise occupied devouring the woman in front of him, he would’ve let slip a string of colorful swear words. He wanted to touch her so badly. Wanted to run bare fingers over every inch of her heated flesh, and finally explore the planes of her body that clothes always kept hidden from sight.

He sent a somber swear to the heavens to find and kiss every freckle decorating her skin.

“Purrincess,” he rasped out against her lips, shuddering from the way her ragged breaths fanned the corner of his mouth. “A-are you in love with me?”

Her voice was just as affected. “Against my better judgement... yes.”

Chat slowly shut his eyes, taking a sharp inhale through his nose and expelling an audible sigh when he buried his face against her shoulder.

“Don’t you dare give me a lecture on why I shouldn’t. I’ve already tried to fight it, failed, and given up on rationality concerning you.” Her fingers tugged at the shorter hairs at the nape of his neck, a subtle bid for his attention. Her sharp tone dropped to a wistful murmur in his ear. “I don’t care if it’s never reciprocated. I know what you are and I’ve accepted that.”

Her words cut him so deeply. A lancing pain running straight through his heart accompanied by a silent whimper against her collar bone.

“Say it.”

“What?”

Tell me you love me,” he pleaded.

Marinette pressed a chaste kiss against his temple, “I love you.”

He pulled his face from the crook of her neck and locked his eyes with hers. “Please... say it again.”

“I love you, Chat Noir.”

He loosed a primitive growl and claimed her lips again.

Despite the way his legs quivered he pulled her away from the wall, claws clutching his curator tightly against him, he carried her to the bedroom. The sole of his boot kicking the door open, he strode towards the bed, never once ceasing to kiss her. He didn’t need to see to know the way, still familiar with the apartment from before.

When his knees hit the edge of the bed, he fell onto the mattress with her, elbows braced to keep his weight from crushing her.

Chat broke the kiss to pull away and appraise the woman beneath him, a flush upon her cheeks, black hair pooling around her face, and love in her clouded eyes. Her chest heaving as she attempted to catch her breath once again.

With half-lidded eyes and half a smile he murmured, “universe inside of your heart, you gotta let me know so you can be free...

Marinette’s face pulled into a snarl, “you shut the hell up.”

Chat yelped when she snatched the bell at his neck and dragged him back down on top her.

“Quote one more song lyric at me, and I won’t sleep with you.”

“Noted,” he choked past a wolfish grin.

His hands fell to the hem of her sleeping pants, claws hooking under the edge of the fabric, only pausing for a second before tearing them off her hips and down her legs. With that article of clothing discarded to the floor his hand returned to caress the skin of her thighs, now completely bare and exposed to him.

The fair skin along her collar bone taunted him, beautifully unmarked. It was time to rectify that.

A shudder tore through her, his claws slipping behind her back and drawing her up, as his mouth dragged down the base of her neck, over the velvet choker, his nose nudging the bell aside and teeth marking a path over freckled skin.

Bedroom sceneEvery moan that spilled from her lips, every ragged breath, spurred him on and drove him wild.

The clicking of zipper teeth reached his ears; Marinette had snaked a hand between them to pull at the bell on his neck, easing the front of his suit open.

Chat pulled away only to press a hard kiss against her lips.

He hooked his hand behind her knee, dragging her closer, before slipping his hand up her thigh till his claws reached the hem of her nightgown.

The path she carved with his bell stopped when it hit his tool belt, cold fingers pressed against his chest, mapping out the contours of his muscles. Her thumb made a teasing pass over his right nipple, and a gasp caught in his throat.

He wasn’t aware he even liked that.

Chat retaliated by sinking his hand below the hem of her gown, hiking it up, he yanked her panties off. They found their way to the floor with her pants.

“The belt,” she hissed, pressing kisses along the hollow of his jaw.

“Hmmm?” He was a little distracted.

“I want it off. Right now.”

Oh.

Chat was more than eager to comply. His hands snapped the buckle, picking it apart with a series of sharp clicks, and then the heavy tool belt fell away from his hips, taking his faux tail along with it.

He briefly lamented all the effort he went through just to get the damn suit on, only to have it stripped back off his body.

But then her hands were under the edges of his suit, forcing it from his shoulders and sliding leather down his torso.

It took everything he had to remain focused when he bent to shuck off his boots, and the action brought his face about level with her naked stomach. Blonde hair tickling the dip of her belly button, he couldn’t resist latching his mouth to the line of her hip and sucking hard on the flesh.

“Chat!”

The way she called his name made desire ripple through him.

His boots hit the floor, one definite thunk after the other, and he pulled away from her body only so he could tear his gloves off with his teeth.

Glowing green cat eyes met stormy blue so dark the color was almost non-existent.

They didn’t need to speak to see the impatience sparking in both their eyes, completely fed up with the labyrinth of clothes and the task of shedding them.

She finished stripping off her nightgown, while he slithered out of the rest of his leather catsuit.

At the sight of Marinette completely naked, lying on the bed before him, a heated rush of desire chased through his veins straight to his groin.

Her chest was bare for him for the first time, and Chat drank in the sight of her soft breasts, moderate in size, but deliciously bite-able. He’d always been more enraptured with her ass, but there was something to be said about getting to see, and feel, and devour the whole package.

He shook himself back into the moment. There would be time to memorize her naked body later.

Chat tackled her again, pressing kisses to her lips and pushing her down into the bed.

He wanted her so badly. He was so hard and ready for her that it hurt. The fabric of his briefs stained and wet with precum.

Marinette broke the kiss to trail her lips along his jaw, hands cupping the sides of his face and brushing messy blonde hair away from his ears.

A strange guttural noise escaped him when she sucked his earlobe into her mouth, silver hooped earring and all.

Mari,” he moaned.

With his right hand Chat forced his boxer briefs down, his erection finally springing free from the last restraining clothing, so he could bring his hips down to rut against her.

He forced her legs apart and she brought them up to grasp his hip bones in the same moment he sank into her.

Chat!” The way she screamed his name was dizzying and satisfying.

He wanted to hear it all night.

She was so hot and tight around him, it made his head spin as he gasped for air. Chat waited only a moment to be sure she was fine before pulling out and thrusting back into her.

And was met with another cry of his name.

He began a relentless pace, hips thrusting into her, rocking her into the bed. His vocalizations a series of hungry groans interspersed between the occasional moan of her name.

He was shuddering atop her, muscles quivering with every frantic movement as he fucked her, hard, siphoning his pent-up desire out through sexual release.

Marinette was mewling his name beneath him, her fingernails digging into the skin on his back so hard he was sure she’d leave marks. Clinging to him for stability while he ravished her body, bringing them both so dangerously close to the edge.

Chat slipped a hand between them, reaching down to find her sensitive nub and brush the pad of his thumb over it. Rubbing circles to bring her closer, to push her over the precipice with him.

The scream of his name echoed through the apartment when she came.

Her body clenching so tightly around him brought him to his own release, his thrusts becoming shallow and frantic until he came inside her with a hoarse cry.

Then he collapsed with her into a tangle of sweaty limbs among the sheets, both of them gasping to reclaim lost breath. Chat buried his face in her neck, eyes closed, her hair tickling his nose as he fought to slow his galloping heart.

“So…” Marinette’s hand slid up, fingertips massaging the back of his neck, tangling in the finer hairs there, “what happens now?”

Chat stilled, mindfully bracing his weight on his forearms so he didn’t crush her. “What do you want to happen?”

“I...don’t know.” Marinette admitted softly, and Chat could hear the tension in her voice.
“Do you want me to stay? Tonight?” Chat asked, careful to clarify when he felt her start to tense up underneath him.

“...yes.”

Something inside of him, that he hadn’t even realized was coiling, eased at her answer, and Chat nuzzled his face deeper against her neck, inhaling their combined scent and very carefully not thinking about it. “Then I will.”

 

Chapter Text

Chat’s hands were so gentle.

His long thin fingers trailing circles across her skin, slipping over her ribs to caress the swell of her hip; occasionally he would cup her ass before resuming his quest to map out her body again.

Marinette sighed blissfully into his embrace.

She had her face buried against his pronounced collar bone, her head pillowed on his left arm while she inhaled the smell of him and basked in the afterglow of what had been rather passionate sex. The ambient air in the apartment was warm enough that they didn’t need to be under the blankets, and any chill she might’ve felt from the air was chased away by Chat’s heated body curled lovingly around her.

She felt him nuzzle the top of her head, humming lowly in the back of his throat as he did so.

“Mmmm, my lady,” he started, voice drawling, very content and lazy. “Please tell me about yourself.”

She had to stifle a laugh, but was sure he felt her giggling silently against him. “Now? Your timing is incredibly questionable, considering what we just did.”

“I want to know you.” He elaborated, sounding unperturbed by her mock incredulity. “I want to know you more than just emotionally... or physically.” There was an edge to his voice that sounded to her like he was pulling back a plate of his own armor to lay bare a piece of his vulnerable heart.

Marinette tried very hard not to place too much significance in that. There was no sense setting herself up with expectations only to further her heart break.

“I can’t imagine you normally invest yourself this much in your bedroom partners.”

Chat breathed a patient sigh, wrapping his arm around her hip to pull her a little closer.

“I have had my share of company,” he offered, providing her a glimpse into his personal life. “And you are right, very few did I pursue any serious... interest in.”

She snorted. “There couldn’t have been many women who expected the elusive Chat Noir to stick around for the long term.”

Chat pulled away bending his head to look down at her with a perplexed expression. “I’ve never pursued a relationship with someone in the guise of my mask.”

This was an interesting tidbit of information. It felt both flattering and irritating that she was the first woman he decided to woo as Chat Noir. But only made her more curious about his real identity, and despite his denial, she still couldn’t shake the uncanny resemblance he had to Adrien. The temptation to rip the mask off his face, and extinguish the last shreds of doubt itched beneath her fingers. She didn’t know Adrien very well, but if she had to place her money on Chat’s actual identity... well... she’d go for broke.

Marinette was also going to be incredibly irate if it turned out he lied to her about it.

“So you want to know about me?” She mused and brought a hand up to splay over his chest. Her eyes flickered away from his face, afraid that the aching in her chest was reflected in them. She studied his body instead, Chat’s skin was still as smooth and hairless as she remembered from months before, and she still assumed he waxed, but that wasn’t surprising given the form-fitting suit he preferred to run around in. “You already know my work, where I live, nosed through my hobbies, and you’ve seen the inside of my bedroom. We’ve watched movies together, and played video games, what more could you possibly want to know about me?”

“Everything?” There was a kind of honesty in his voice, like he truly wanted to know, and this wasn’t just a tactic to manipulate her.

But she didn’t want to tell him, not when he still kept so much from her.

“You might be amused to hear I slapped Adrien Agreste today.” She tried not to let on anything while she gauged his response to her statement.

Chat didn’t react physically to the declaration, but his verbal response of, “I bet he deserved it,” was not what she expected to hear.

Marinette narrowed her eyes under a furrowed brow, but Chat had closed his own eyes and his face was clear of any sort of emotion. It was almost too blank.

“You don’t even want to know what he did?”

“Were you planning on withholding that information unless I asked?”

She wanted to curse his evasiveness. His habit of firing off questions that deflected any of her own was frustrating.

“You know what,” Marinette sat up, flicking her hair over her shoulder and staring down at his startled cat eyes. “I don’t want to tell you. I don’t know a thing about you, and this isn’t fair to me, or my feelings, to share my personal life with you, like- like this is something more than a fleeting affair.”

“Marinette,” he whispered, emotion bleeding into his voice when he spoke her actual name. “You aren’t some conquest, or a notch in my belt. Even if I can’t... stay,” and his voice seemed to crack on that word, “I’ll never forget you. This, whatever this is between us will, without a doubt, haunt me for the rest of my life. My only regret is that I am unable to take you with me. I would want nothing more than to whisk you off into the sunset, take you far away and show you all the wonderful places in the world.”

“While you systematically loot said places,” Marinette quirked a mildly amused brow at him. She tried not to let any of the hurt slip into her voice, or show on her face. Reminding herself of what she had already known, that Chat would leave. It was only behind sardonic comments that she could mask her own feelings.

When he chuckled it was a with a Cheshire grin on his features, not even bothering to deny her accusation.

It was pointless, scolding him for being what he was. So she cast her eyes away from his grin, letting them trail the length of his body and stopping at the scar on his leg.

Chat didn’t stop her when she reached a hand out and brushed the tips of her fingers over the scar. He only watched her with an impassive expression and darkened eyes.

She still had questions about that scar. Like who shot him? And why? And why his own home wasn’t safe anymore? And a million other questions he wouldn’t ever answer.

It was also a reminder of how close she came to losing him; before he even became something special to her, before she fell in love with him... or maybe a part of her already had been. Maybe that was why she went running to his rescue that night without even thinking twice about whether she should.

He must’ve noticed the shadow that fell over her with the flood of memories because he curled his body, tilted his head in a way that made his cat ears dip to the side, and smiled up at her.

Purrescious, Purrincess, may I have the pleasure of your thoughts?”

Marinette sighed, and felt her chest ache again. She snatched her fingers back from his leg. “I want to ask you so many things, but I don’t want you to lie to me, and I know you will.”

The playfulness melted right off his face, and Chat dropped his eyes to her hand resting next to him. “I want to be honest with you, chérie. But I want to protect you.”

“And you.”

“...and me.” Chat released a hard breath through his nose. “I have enemies, dangerous enemies who would not hesitate to hurt you if they thought you knew things, and you have Interpol breathing down your neck.”

“I accept that you think you’re looking out for me, but it doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating.” She made a point not to remark about Interpol. In fact Interpol was the last thing she wanted to discuss with him. If he thought for a second that she was the actual bait, a trap meant to lure him in, she would most likely never see him again.

As much as she loved the man lying next to her, she also acknowledged that what he was doing was wrong, and she held the power to put an end to it. With Chat, his trade would always be his passion, and Marinette inevitably fell lower on the ladder, which meant there was no reason she should sacrifice her own career for him. Loving him didn’t mean she would turn a blind eye if and when he decided to rob her museum... even if it meant he would hate her.

How did I end up in this mess? Alya was right, we really are so married to our jobs that we are blind to everything else.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Marinette shut her eyes, deciding now wasn’t the time to have such a salient conversation, it was ruining her good mood. She felt Chat flinch in surprise when she flopped back down against his chest, the arm she wasn’t laying on coming across his shoulders so she could hold onto him.

“Please, don’t apologize to me,” she whispered while she buried her face against his neck. “Just hold me.”

He didn’t say anything, which she appreciated, only brought his arms around her, one hand cradling the small of her back while the other held her shoulders, his fingers threading through her dark hair.

Marinette idly wondered if Chat had some sort of fascination with her hair, because he appeared to enjoy playing with it, running his fingers through the tresses. She wasn’t going to complain, not when it felt so nice and comforting. It all was strangely comforting, being here with him, wrapped in his arms, breathing his scent, feeling...

If Chat noticed her sudden pensiveness, he didn’t say anything.

She still couldn’t feel him, not even an inkling. Marinette attempted to concentrate, focusing her thoughts on him and clearing away everything else.

Nothing.

She bit the inside of her cheek in frustration.

“Purrincess~” Chat murmured, breaking her from the troubling conundrum. “Is it safe to assume I was that guy-you-didn’t-want-to-want-so-bad? The one your friend mentioned back when I was at your mercy?”

She snorted, feeling a bubble of amusement at his inquiry. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Yes,” he said simply, holding her closer. “But I wanted to hear it from you.”

“Conceited cat.”

Me-ouch~” he chuckled, “but if it makes you feel any better, I’ve wanted you just as long.”

Chat began peppering kisses along the top of her head stopping only to murmur compliments. “You are so beautiful. And so very intelligent... tenacious... meowvelous... feisty... and fascinating.”

Chat rolled with her, till he was leaning over her, and she was cradled in his arms. He continued to hum his praises, trailing kisses along her jaw, and eventually down her neck, stopping to nip at the bell still hanging off her collar before continuing over her shoulders. “M’lady... I would climb the Andes solely to count the freckles on your body.”

And we are done listening to you talk now.” Marinette grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked him back from his quest of kissing said freckles.

He shot her a wolfish grin, not at all remorseful for the lyrics.

“You are such a Catsonova” sarcasm evident in her tone.

Chat blinked owlishly, “did you just make a cat pun?”

Purrhaps.”

His face broke out into a bright gleeful grin, mirth and adoration sparkling in the toxic green of his cat eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but Marinette didn’t wait to hear whatever corny thing would slip from his tongue.

With both hands she gripped the sides of his face and dragged him down for a kiss; after a brief startled moment, Chat was all too eager to comply, ditching words in favor of yielding to her mouth.

What started as a playful distraction quickly evolved into something more impassioned. Her arms slipped around his shoulders, holding him close, and when she bit his bottom lip the noise he made caused her toes to curl.

Chat moved his body against her, and she was hardly startled to feel that he was ready again.

“Are you on birth control?” He broke their kissing to pant out the breathless inquiry.

“A little late to be asking that, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and I’m an absolute idiot.” Chat bit her neck in a warning to quit the cheekiness and answer his question.

She squeaked and flinched from his teeth, “I should tell you no, just to make you squirm.”

Marinette could hear him groan desperately into her shoulder, “is that a yes? Please tell me it’s a yes.”

“I have been since you stayed in my apartment.”

There was a moment when he pulled away to stare at her wordlessly; a myriad of emotions dancing behind his vivid green eyes, and his jaw going slack.

She brought her hand up, affectionately threading it through his messy blonde hair. Her fingers curled around one of his faux cat ears, pulling the silly costume piece from his head, and flicking it off somewhere across the room.

He didn’t give her a chance to rid him of the other one.

His mouth closed over hers and she immediately parted her own to grant him access, her tongue meeting his with just as much ardor.

Marinette pushed roughly at his shoulder, prompting him to back off only so that she could coax him into rolling with her. She wasn’t strong enough to force him onto his back, but Chat got the gist of her intentions, hands snapping to her hips and dragging her on top of him when he fell backwards. Her legs were on either side of him as she settled on his stomach, and her dark hair fell over one shoulder, long bangs brushing dangerously over her eyes as she regarded him.

He made quite a sight beneath her, messy blonde hair making a halo on the pillows, singular cat ear sitting off-balance on his head, and toxic feline eyes -shades darker than she could recall- staring up at her from behind his black domino-style mask.

Chat trailed his hands up her body, stopping to palm her breasts while his eyes drank in the sight of her on top of him. He opened his mouth to say something, but she pressed a finger against his nose before the words could tumble out.

“Not a chance, mon Chaton,” she purred, grinding her hips farther down his stomach. “I’m not going to let you ruin the mood for me.”

“You don’t even know what I was going to say.” He defended, feigning mock offense with a dramatic expression.

“It was either going to be a pun or cheesy song lyrics, no thanks.” She placed her hands on his chest, mapping out the contours of his torso as she slowly slipped farther down his body, one achingly slow inch at a time.

“I can’t sing your praises?” He grinned devilishly at her.

“No. You can be quiet.” Marinette lifted her hips to rub against his straining erection, and Chat groaned enthusiastically, his fingers trailing over the tops of her breasts until he found her nipples and began teasing them with the pads of his thumbs. “Unless it’s those noises,” she amended sheepishly; she wasn’t accustomed to being in control and reveled in the way she made him purr beneath her. His hands created delicious sensations that caused her pulse to spike and travel lower on her body.

Chat impatiently rolled his hips up, seeking friction and heat between them, and Marinette finally obliged and sank down on him.

She shut her eyes tight, a long sensual moan escaping her lips, almost unaware of Chat’s own gasp of pleasure. His hands snaked away from her chest to grasp at her hips so hard she could feel his nails digging.

Her breaths were already coming out heavy when she started to move, grinding, sliding, torturously slow undulations. She arched back meeting his thrusts, taking him deeper, riding him with a rhythm that was controlled and slow, determined to drag out the pleasure longer this time.

She wanted him to writhe beneath her, and watch him come undone, completely lost in the moment the way she was with him.

“M-Mari.” He started in a throaty breathless pant as Marinette straightened, sitting fully upright atop him. Dark hair spilled over her shoulders, and the bedside lamp made the bell still around her neck shine in the dim light. His eyes traced over her form, taking in the sight of her.

Licking the pad of his thumb absently, he set it against her, rubbing circles as she leaned back to grant him better access. Marinette hummed appreciatively, head tilting back as she moved against him, one slim hand resting against his stomach for balance as she undulated, her mouth falling open as he toyed with the bundle of nerves at the apex of her sex.

“Here.” Chat rasped, gripping her hips, sliding his hands up her sides to pull her down to him. “Closer. I want to touch you.”

Marinette leaned over him, bracing above him as his hands gripped her sides. His thumbs pressed against her ribs, fingers digging into her back until her spine arched and put her breasts in reach of his lips. Leaning up, he grasped one rosy nipple, laving it with his tongue and sucking strongly as she whined.

Her hips bucked against him a little faster, restrained by his hands holding her still as the bell at her neck swung. Gasping, his lips released her breast and Marinette changed the angle, tilting her hips to rub more fully against him, increasing the pleasurable friction. Beneath her, Chat’s head tilted back, eyes screwing shut as she rode him.

“Fuck!” He gasped, fingers spasming as his hips flexed against her helplessly. “Fuck, don’t stop... Mari... Mari, Mari.”

With his every gasp of her name she was grinding harder, falling forward to bury her face against his shoulder, and muffle her ragged breathing. The feel of him pressed against her, inside her, thrusting helplessly as he unraveled for her was heady, sending her shuddering to the edge of her orgasm.

“Ch-ahhhhht!” She loosed a startled scream when he bit into her neck, and it was enough to send her over the edge, shuddering and whimpering in pleasure as her orgasm overtook her.

Chat’s hands slid down her sides, fingers gripping her ass and clutching for stability and he rutted helplessly into her, seeking his own release. The feeling of her shattering around him, shuddering and moaning as she clenched was all it took. A few more, frantic thrusts and he was coming undone, hips flexing into her warmth, spine curving under the weight of his orgasm as he emptied himself inside her.

Marinette could barely recall rolling off of him, exhausted from their activities. She struggled to catch her breath, and her knees were aching from the position.

The last thing she clearly remembered was Chat hauling her back against his chest, arms encircling her and his mouth pressing lazy kisses against her neck.

She curled into him; consciousness slipping away from her while listening to his murmurs, and the steady beating of his heart.

And somewhere far away she felt a heated sensation creep up on her, burning intense but also blissfully comforting. At first it tickled her skin pleasantly, -although she didn’t attribute it to a crawling feeling this time- and enveloped her body; then it came like waves crashing over her, suffocating and satisfying in the same breath.

It was him and she was in love with it.

0000

It was the laziest he could ever remember waking up in a long while. Every muscle in his body felt sluggish and heavy, and Chat took a moment to indulge his namesake and stretch languorously among the pink colored bed sheets.

                            Sleeping chat

Everything around him smelled like her. He blinked gathering memories of the night before as recognition of his surroundings settled over him.

Purrfect, was his word of choice for the morning. Well... almost perfect.

There was no lovely curator lying next to him -he lifted his head to scan his surroundings- nor was she anywhere else in the room.

Chat bit back the temptation to call out for her, reminding himself that there could be a reason she wasn’t in the bedroom, that someone could have stopped by her apartment and it would be foolish for him to reveal his presence.

He slipped off the bed, easing through the room with the kind of silence that came from years of training controlled movements.

The first thing he noticed was the lack of clothes on the floor, all the articles shed the night prior were missing.

The apartment was also uncomfortably quiet. Only the usual low hum of electricity in the building that most people didn’t notice until their power went out and they were forced to acknowledge its absence.

Chat always heard it; among other noises he’d trained himself to be keenly aware of.

When he neared her dresser he found a peculiar pile of folded clothing, with a bright piece of stationary settled on top.

He cast one more look around the room, and strained his ears to pick up any sounds within the rest of the apartment, when he confirmed it was safe to break his concentration he snatched up the stationary and read the messily scrawled note, recognizing Marinette’s loopy handwriting immediately.

Got called in for work, won’t be back till later. I don’t expect you to stay. Here are some normal people clothes so you can leave without being conspicuous.’

He couldn’t stifle the swell of disappointment that bubbled in his chest like bile in response to the note. There was nothing else, and the frankness of her note, the detached feeling that accompanied the words, made his chest feel tight. Painfully so.

How could he make her see she meant more to him than a fleeting affair?

She was so much more than that.

He wasn’t ready to sort out the extent of his feelings; he couldn’t, not yet... not now.

But she was... special.

Chat set the note aside, and looked at the clothing she’d left out for him.

It was a set of men’s clothes, shirt, pants, socks, belt, and... a pair of his underwear?

Oh... It took him a moment to recall that he’d left his undergarments in her laundry when he stayed with her months ago.

The rest of the clothes looked to be articles that she had made. Chat slipped everything on and quickly came to the conclusion that the clothes had never been intended for him. The shirt was huge, made for a very stout and broad shouldered man, and the pants were a little large around his middle -needing to be secured using the provided belt- but they were too short. The legs of the pants stopped midway on his shins, looking more like a pair of capris than actual pants. Whomever she made them for had short legs... or were they actually supposed to be capris?

She was right, he couldn’t waltz out of her apartment in broad daylight wearing his catsuit, and he wasn’t willing to wait around until nightfall. Not that he didn’t want to see her again, but he had places to be, a job to do, and it was a very poor idea to stick around her apartment.

There was nothing he despised more than being confined.

Once dressed, Chat scoped out the rest of the apartment. He found his catsuit, belt and gloves folded up inside a gym bag and sitting on a chair at her desk, his boots were on the floor next to it. And he slipped those on for lack of any other footwear.

Then concluded that he looked very odd.

The rest of the apartment was empty, looking the same way it had the night before, except Marinette had closed the doors to the itty bitty Juliet balcony, and the curtains were drawn.

When Chat confirmed he was completely alone, he went to the bathroom and removed the mask and remaining cat ear. The sticky residue from the mask adhesive still clung to his skin, and the black make-up that shadowed his eyes made him look like a panda in the mirror.

The water he splashed on his face was sobering and helped ease the uncomfortable stiffness in his face from wearing his mask for so long. He helped himself to some of her soaps to wash the cosmetics and adhesive from his skin, fingers working to scrub the residue away.

When he looked up again, it was to see the tired face of Adrien Agreste staring back at him. The face that decorated hundreds of billboards, and thousands of fashion magazines.

Gabriel Fashion’s biggest poster boy, and son of the biggest crime lord in Paris.

Not that anyone knew the last part. Interpol had been trying to connect Gabriel Agreste with his extensive crime syndicate for decades, to no avail. His father was as slippery as a fish and twice as enigmatic.

Adrien heaved a sigh, his fingers brushing the fabric of the loose fitting clothes in what was supposed to be a comforting gesture, but wasn’t really.

Time to make my walk of shame.

It was 9:37am. After gathering the rest of his things in the gym bag, and slinging it over his shoulder -he promised to visit her again soon to return the bag, or at the very least leave it in her office- Adrien left her apartment, making certain to lock the door behind himself. The click of the lock when he shut the door coincided with the sharp breath he took through his nose, and if he hadn’t been attuned to the sound of footfalls he would’ve been startled when someone came treading up the stairwell.

He knew immediately that it wasn’t Marinette, the footfalls were too heavy for her, and it didn’t match her usual pattern of steps. Adrien turned away from the door pulling on an unassuming act, figuring whomever was about to step onto the landing was a resident of a different apartment on the same level.

A darker-skinned woman, with wild, curly auburn hair and spectacles came out of the stairwell.

Adrien swallowed thickly as recognition washed over him.

The woman zeroed in on him immediately, her face mirroring his own.

“Adrien?” Alya Césaire started down the corridor with a new kind of determination in her steps, her brows furrowing.

“Hey,” he attempted a casual greeting, adopting a practiced smile and propping his arm against the door frame. “What are you doing here?”

“I should be asking you!” She scoffed, scrutinizing him with her sharp eyes. “I came to see Marinette.”

“She isn’t home,” he drawled out. “I just checked, no answer.”

Alya rocked back on her heels, her brows shooting up over the rim of her spectacles, and she made a point to look him up and down again before the corner of her mouth pulled up. She folded her arms under her chest and simply said, “Sure.”

There was nearly a whole minute of scrutiny between them, both hall occupants staring each other down, like animals in confrontation, circling and waiting for the other to make the first move.

The next second Alya was whipping a cellular phone from her pocket and furiously tapping in the lock screen password.

“No!” Adrien yowled, and lunged for her cell, but Alya yanked it out of reach and hit the call button under Marinette’s contact info. “Please, don’t call her!”

He made another grab at the phone, but Alya forced him to back off with a hand in his face, practically shoving the manicured nail of her middle finger up his nose.

Adrien stumbled back with a cross-eyed expression fixed on the offensive hand gesture shoved in his face.

Alya kept her hand raised, holding him at arm’s length while the call went through.

“Hey Mari,” she started, shooting Adrien a warning look when he reached around her arm, and grabbed at the phone again. “I stopped by your place to see if you were free, and found Adrien Agreste leaving your apartment, with sex hair, and wearing clothes that you’ve made. You wanna explain something to me?”

He gave up trying to retrieve the phone, and buried his face in his hands instead. Every vein in his body felt cold as ice, and he swore his heart seized twice before it stopped.

This wasn’t how he wanted her to find out.

Ayla’s voice broke his miasma of self-loathing. “She wants to speak to you.”

Adrien looked up to find a phone shoved in his face rather than the rude hand gesture that had been previously.

His fingers were shaking when he took the phone and hesitantly pressed it to his ear, it clicked against the earpiece that was already fixed there.

“...hello?” His voice caught in his throat and cracked as it came out.

It was quiet for a good thirty seconds, and Adrien wondered if she was actually on the line or if Alya was messing with him.

“...Chat?” It was her voice on the phone.

His heart stopped again.

“Yes, Purrincess?”

The line suddenly went dead.

Chapter Text

Adrien pulled the cellular phone away from his ear, the silence of an abruptly ended call still ringing, whilst blood and panic rushed through his head.

He barely registered Alya snatching the phone back from him.

There was a moment in which the woman before him made a series of faces, her hands gesticulating oddly in the air as if putting pieces into place, or solving a complex equation, then all at once she snapped her hands to her hips, and smiled.

He decided very quickly that he didn’t like that smile. That smile could mean nothing good for anyone else. Not that he knew Alya Césaire very well, he’d seen her at many of the social and fashion events that he attended as himself, and exchanged words with her a few times. He knew she was a keen journalist, persistent, but one of the kinder ones, with a fair opinion.

She didn’t look so kind now. Not with a demonic light shining behind those eyes, that bright spark of feverish and gluttonous curiosity that was the lifeblood of her career as a journalist.

"You're Him, aren't you?" Alya breathed, eyes focused on him with razor intensity.

"Him who?" Adrien asked suspiciously, unnerved by the slightly maniacal light in her eyes as she studied him.

"You know damn well who, Pussy Cat." Alya smirked triumphantly.

Adrien froze. Everything about him stilled as his eyes stopped darting along the hall and snapped up to narrow on her. Before Alya could open her mouth, he stepped in close, clapping his hand across her face.

"I don't know who you think I am, but I am NOT having this conversation here." He hissed near her ear. "So pick another spot, or let me past and go get your answers from your friend."

"And you're nuts if you think I'm letting you get away; I'll never see you again," Alya snapped, wrenching her head back. “We could talk in the apartment,” she indicated the door with a nod.

“It’s locked and Marinette isn’t home,” he responded, attempting to keep his answer as neutral as possible.

Alya fished a set of keys from her pants pocket and singled out one to Marinette’s apartment, holding it up for him to see. She took a fistful of Adrien’s oversized shirt to prevent him from running off while she unlocked the apartment with her other hand.

“C’mon,” Adrien protested, “is this really necessary?”

“Yes.” She wrenched the door open and practically threw him back into the apartment, following close behind and shutting the door with a click of the lock.

Adrien looked about the apartment, fingers dancing along the strap of the gym bag. His mind was already considering half a dozen possible escape routes should the conversation encroach on a topic he didn’t wish to discuss.

“So, Césaire, what have you got all figured out?” He perched on the back of the couch, looking nonplussed, but seated in such a way he could make a break for it if someone so much as sneezed.

“You’re Marinette’s mystery man.” She poked the apartment key in his direction, and adjusted her spectacles with her other hand, pushing them up the bridge of her nose. Adrien could tell it wasn’t a gesture to secure the glasses -as they were clearly fitted properly- and concluded it was a nervous habit. “Marinette gets hung up on a mystery man, around the same time my fiancé comes back to Paris, an agent who’s been tailing the thief Chat Noir.”

He remained impassive, choosing not to contribute to her monologue.

“We go have drinks and you’re conveniently invited, and she called you Chat Noir. Pretty big coincidence for Marinette to randomly call you a thief, given we’ve never discussed him before that night. And she just happens to label you as the same thief Nino’s been after? I’ve seen some of my fiancé’s work; he’s been investigating you Mister Agreste.”

Adrien pursed his lips, but chose not to speak.

“I was starting to wonder if Marinette got mixed up with Chat Noir, if that was why she couldn’t tell me about this guy she liked so much. And then I catch you leaving her apartment, looking like a cat that not only got the cream but bathed in it.”

“Does she know who you are?” Alya was gesticulating again. “She has to; why else would she be all secretive about you. But then what was that business on phone all about?”

Finally, he gave her a speculative look, cheeks flushed with faked embarrassment, Adrien scratched the back of his neck. “This is an awfully wild story, Miss Césaire. None of this proves I’m a wanted criminal, and all you really have is an unfortunate mistaken identity, claims made while Marinette was drunk.”

“Oh, don’t even try to insult her like that,” Alya spat, “even too pissed to stand Marinette is one of the sharpest knives in the block.”

He fell silent again, watching Alya pace back and forth the length of the room.

“But, you’re right, all this is circumstantial.” She hissed, her feet making hard sounds against the flooring, while the keys she was nervously playing with jangled in her fingers. “But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Even if I have to pry the truth out of Marinette with the jaws of life, I will get to the bottom of this.”

“You would seek to uncover the truth, even if it puts your friend in danger?”

Alya whirled on her heels to narrow her eyes at him, but Adrien was already to the glass doors of the balcony, easing them open.

“Where do you think you’re going?!”

Before she could cover the span of the living room he was leaping over the railing of the balcony and onto the side of the apartment building. Alya tumbled out onto the minuscule Juliet balcony a moment later, tipping one of Marinette’s potted plants over in the process. The railing kept the pot from plummeting to its doom, but the soil rained down on the street and trees below.

“Have you put Marinette in some sort of danger? God dammit Adrien!”

He felt something strike him in the shoulder and watched a clump of lavender fall away into a nearby awning. She tried tossing another plant at him, but he was out of range at this point, taking hold of a drain pipe and shimmying down the side of the building. The gym bag with his belongings securely draped across his back, as he worked his way to the street below.

When he reached the ground she called angrily down to him, “You learn how to do that in your particular line of work?!”

Not that she could see his face very well from the fourth floor, but he beamed up at her with a large toothy grin. “Haven’t you ever snuck out of the house before? You learn that as a teenager!”

Adrien bid her farewell with a cheeky two-fingered salute, and Alya tossed a handful of soil at him from the upended flowerpot. He shielded his eyes from the assault before taking off in the direction he left his car the night before.

0000

Marinette was hunched over her desk going through a stack of paperwork when Alya showed up. Her friend didn’t so much as knock, but let herself into the office and made a point of shutting the door behind her. Marinette refused to look up and only acknowledged her friend’s presence by scrunching down farther in her chair.

She waited for the inevitable inquisition, attempting to brace herself for it.

“Girl, I’ve got some serious questions for you.”

“Like, why I’m seeing Adrien when I said I wasn’t seeing Adrien?” The papers in Marinette’s hand made a shuffling noise when she straightened them, looking over the words without reading them.

“That,” Alya continued in a low tone, “and how you failed to tell me he’s Chat Noir? Why in the world are you sleeping with Chat Noir?”

Marinette cringed, not answering. It didn’t matter; the unguarded gesture was damning enough.

“How long have you known he’s Chat Noir?” Alya demanded, staring at the woman behind the desk intently.

“Actually it should be, ‘how long have I known he’s Adrien,’” mumbled the curator. “And I officially found out today, thanks to you.”

The other woman blinked at her, shocked. “Oh... girl, I am so sorry.” Then her face screwed up into a scowl again. “He didn’t even tell you?”

Marinette cringed at the memory of his blatant lie, and felt her temper roil beneath her skin. “So, how did you figure it out?”

The journalist perched against Marinette’s spare desk, arms crossed under her generous chest. “I had a hunch ever since we all went clubbing together and you started bawling that Adrien was Chat Noir at the bar. I may have gotten pretty sick, but I remember parts of that night a helluva lot better than you. I had my suspicions confirmed when I cornered your boy toy this morning, and he took the express route out of your apartment; off the balcony and down the drain pipe.”

“Of course,” Marinette groaned and buried her face into the papers. Tikki was going to complain about them getting wrinkled, but she couldn’t bring herself to care at the moment. “He’s always so... extra about everything.”

“I’m having a hard time putting this all together.” Alya snatched the guest chair and straddled it backwards, crossing her arms over the back and resting her head on them. “Are you ready to tell me the whole story now?”

The curator peeked out of her armful of papers, “Are you going to tell Nino?”

“That bitch didn’t even tell me he worked for Interpol until two months ago. I ain’t telling him shit. Marinette, when I told you I’d help you bury a body I was dead serious.” Alya’s face grew hard behind her spectacles, and she frowned at her. “You’re my best friend, and I only wish you trusted me enough to confide in me earlier.”

“You aren’t exactly good at keeping secrets when you’re wasted.” Marinette pointed out, lifting her head to arch an expressive brow at the other woman.

“Neither are you,” Alya countered.

“Touché,” Marinette muttered.

“Bros before hoes, girl.” Alya said piously, chin tilting haughtily as she peered at Marinette over the rims of her spectacles.

Marinette quirked a brow as the corner of her mouth tugged upwards into a lopsided smile. “But we aren’t bros, shouldn’t we be sisters? You know, ‘sisters before misters’ or something?”

“Shut up.” Alya snapped, lips pursing as she mock-glared at her friend. “We’re bros, this is our bromance; don’t ruin it with your political correctness.”

Both women shared playful grins, and for Marinette it felt like a bridge had been raised where a gap in their friendship had formed. She’d spent so much time hiding among her own secrets, and keeping everyone at arm’s length, she failed to notice the chasm created in her own relationships. It felt liberating to finally confide in a friend, she could only hope that her trust was not misplaced and it wasn’t a huge mistake.

“I’ll text Juleka to bring us some coffees, and then I should probably start at the beginning.”

0000

Her temper was still roiling with mute frustration when she unlocked the front door of her apartment. With hands juggling her keys and purse, Marinette shouldered the door open, and stepped into the entryway. One heel after another made a sharp sound against the floor as she shucked them off.

“I swear to God you’d better be gone.” The door crashed shut under the force of her hand. “If you’re still here I’m going to skin you.”

She was fairly sure he was gone, the apartment was silent, and she couldn’t feel his presence.

Of course sometimes she couldn’t feel his presence regardless of how close he was, and she had yet to figure out why.

Marinette continued to carry on, venting her anger through empty threats that spilled readily from her tongue. “You deserved being slapped! And I’ll do it again. I’ll turn your leather clad ass over to Interpol, and watch them cart you away so you can spend the next infinity rotting in prison!”

She wandered through the living room and sank down on the couch, choosing to stare at her clenching fist rather than turn on the television. “If you were still here I’d punch that beautiful face... and kiss that lying mouth... and have angry sex with you until I forgot why I was mad in the first place.” Marinette heaved a breath and buried her head in her hands. “Because I knew it was you. I figured it out on my own, I just wanted desperately and stupidly for you to tell me the truth.”

In a desperate attempt to vent her frustrations Marinette began assaulting the couch pillows. She didn’t even hear the front door open and Alya enter the apartment, and instead began flinging the pillows in wild directions.

“Hey! Watch it! Unless you want to lick this booze off the floor.”

Marinette flopped forward and shoved her face into the seat of the couch, “Maybe I want to lick it off the floor.”

“Then I’ll dump your mudslide on the ground after I make it. But I want mine in a glass.”

Alya wandered into the kitchen with the grocery bags and began unloading liquor and ice cream onto the countertops.

“Have you eaten anything today?” she called over her shoulder.

Marinette curled deeper into the couch, acknowledging that her stomach was very empty. After Alya left her office around noon she buried herself in work, even work that didn’t necessarily need to be finished on a Saturday. Doing anything to keep her mind busy. She didn’t stop for dinner, and went straight home because Alya insisted on coming over for a girl’s night; which was just her excuse to spend the night comforting her obviously distressed friend.

“I’ll take your silence as a no.” There was the sound of rustling paper and plastic. “I picked up ingredients for mudslides, coffee ice cream, and sushi for dinner.”

“That’s an awful combination of food.” Marinette’s voice was still muffled by the upholstery but she knew her friend could hear her regardless.

“Comfort food.” Alya wandered around the couch and set the sushi on the coffee table. “I even picked up an order of pot sticker sauce because I know you put that shit on everything.” She set a large to-go container filled with a thick dark liquid on the table next to the mountain of cheap sushi.

Alya eventually managed to work Marinette out of her self-induced vortex of misery, and the both of them ended up watching horror movies on Netflix, eating half-melted ice cream drowning in puddles of Kahlua. At some point during the evening they became too tipsy and lazy to make proper mudslides anymore.

Marinette fished a piece of sushi from the cup of pot sticker sauce, and shoved it in her mouth before it had a chance to fall apart between her fingers.

“You had the most boring love life for the past ten years.”

“I know.” Marinette agreed, settling back into a nest of pillows and blankets that they commandeered from her linen closet, because after the night before the coverings on her bed needed to be cleansed in fire. “And I managed to make up for it all in a single summer.”

“Well you’ve whined that you’re hopelessly in love with him all night. So what do you plan to do about it? Does he love you back?”

Marinette picked up her bowl of goopy ice cream and shoveled a spoonful into her mouth. “No, he doesn’t love me.” She took another spoonful. “And I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I were a rational sane person, I’d stop seeing him altogether.”

“But you aren’t.”

“Shut up.” She sighed, and placed the bowl in her lap.

“Not to play the devil’s advocate but, he is an international thief, he isn’t going to be hanging around Paris for much longer. Do you want to spend the remaining time you have together being angry?”

Marinette tilted her head and gave Alya a half-hearted smile. “I honestly can’t stay mad at him, but don’t tell him that or he’ll take advantage of it. I suppose I just want him to apologize to me.”

“And what are you going to do if he robs the Belleville?” Alya inquired, popping a piece of sushi in her mouth and washing it down with a shot of vodka.

“Castrate him.” Marinette stated resolutely.

0000

The late hour did nothing to alleviate the summer heat, and it wasn’t made any more bearable dressed in a leather catsuit.

Chat crouched atop an old Parisian roof holding a pair of collapsible binoculars, below him was a branch for an upscale dry cleaning service. The location had been closed for hours, but it was just now, forty minutes after midnight, that the final building occupant exited the back door and left for the night.

It was what he’d been waiting for.

“That was the last one. Can you see anything else on camera?”

Plagg’s response was a hushed buzz from his earpiece.

“This’ll be child’s play.”

Chat Noir took off along several rooftops and leapt across a narrow alley before landing on the roof of the dry cleaners. The building was lacking a convenient entrance, but he paid it no mind, scaling down the side of the building to pick the lock on one of the top floor windows. The ground level housed the business, and the upper levels were used for storage and one was a disused apartment, but it was the basement Chat sought.

The basement belonged to one of Hawk Moth’s right hand men as a base of operations. It was a place that housed countless illegally acquired property; most of it boxed up and ready to be moved.

But Chat had no interest in his Father’s operations. Tonight he was after one thing.

He wanted the cat’s head ring that was stolen from the pawnbroker in the St. Germain district. The one his Father ordered stolen to frame him, and lead Interpol into Paris.

It had taken Plagg some time to track down the whereabouts of the ring, but both men were reasonably sure it was being kept at this location.

Chat’s boots barely made a sound against the wooden flooring and he eased the window shut. The room he’d let himself into was fairly empty aside from some large unused furniture.

His earpiece buzzed again, and Plagg was being conversational.

“Can we not talk about this right now?” hissed Chat. From the response he received his partner considered it the best time to talk about it. “Yes, I slept with her, and it’s none of your business how good she was.”

His teeth were grinding by the time he took the stairwell. “Are the cameras on a loop or have you been too busy running your face?” When Plagg didn’t take the hint and continued to badger him, Chat decided on a different approach. “Do you really want to a-dress this?

There was a disgruntled noise from the earpiece.

“I could iron out the details for you. It’s not like I have any more pressing issues at the moment, now’s a mar-velour-s time to air my dirty laundry,” he snarled back sarcastically.

He received another very dry response.

“What can I say,” cackled Chat. “You’ve per-sueded me, I’m feeling inclined to tweed about my sex life.” When Plagg declined and told him to shut up he smirked and added, “Suit yourself.”

The security in the building was laughably easy for him to bypass, and Chat made it to the basement without any unfortunate mishaps. It took longer than he would’ve liked to locate the safe where the ring was being kept, and he found it nestled among a collection of other gaudy but expensive jewelry pieces.

Chat took only the ring, he chose not to leave a calling card. Once the ring was reported missing there would be no question who lifted it, his Father would know right away.

His earpiece buzzed again, and Chat grinned, taking a moment to roll the black colored ring between his clawed-fingertips. The emerald cat eyes and the centered ruby glittered in the low light. “But Plagg, this petty rivalry with my Father is what I live for.”

0000

The early morning hours found Alya and Marinette passed out on the couch among a pile of tangled blankets. Marinette was stretched across most of it with Alya lounged over her legs and sleeping on the other woman’s stomach. The television illuminated with an “are you still watching” message cast a faint glow on the females and the surrounding room.

Alya was the first one to jump up from the couch and race to the bathroom. She woke Marinette with a loud retching sound. Upon her return Marinette made a few snide comments about Alya’s inability to hold her liquor, and got a rude hand gesture in response before the other woman crashed back on the couch.

An hour and two snooze buttons later Marinette stumbled into the bathroom to take her medication, chasing it with a glass of water. She felt her own stomach turn, and had to take a moment to compose herself and wait for the nausea to pass.

“Alya.” She staggered into the living room and nudged her friend with her toe. “Get up.”

“No” Alya mumbled, then groaned as she set her hand on her stomach.

Marinette pouted before wandering into the kitchen where she stabbed at the power button on the coffee maker with an uncoordinated finger. There were words to say, she was sure of it, but between the late night, the unrestful sleep, the alcohol-induced muzziness and the unpleasant roiling in her stomach, she couldn’t figure out what they might be.

“Ugh.” Alya groaned, scrubbing a hand over her face as she reached for her glasses. “I need a shower. Whose bright idea was it to get drunk last night anyway?”

Marinette opened her mouth to answer, but Alya was already staggering towards the bathroom. The question was probably rhetorical anyway, Marinette decided as she poured herself a bowl of cereal.

Hesitantly she shoveled a bite into her mouth as she heard the water start up. Her stomach protested the first bite, and wasn’t too thrilled with the second either. Giving up on cereal, Marinette poured coffee into a mug, sipping it tentatively to see how it would sit.

The answer was “not well.” Her stomach twisted, reminding her that sushi and kahlua-soaked ice cream was probably not a winning combination. Still, the intention had been pure - favorite treats after a stressful day capped off a wonderful weekend. Alya had listened, and sympathized, and fed Marinette her favorite foods as a distraction against her problems.

Alya was a good friend, Marinette mused, absently taking another sip of her coffee.

00

Alya was a bitch, Marinette decided viciously.

Said bitch was standing over her twenty minutes later cackling around a toothbrush while Marinette emptied her stomach into the toilet. She spat toothpaste into the wash basin and wiped her mouth off. “Who can’t hold her liquor now?”

Marinette retched again. “I don’t think this has anything to do with alcohol.” She paused to gag, and take a much needed breath. “I think you bought bad sushi.”

“Or all that ice cream you ate soured with that alcohol.”

“Or that.” Marinette grudgingly admitted, still hanging over the toilet as nausea churned her stomach. “But the fish probably didn’t help.”

“Fair enough.” Alya muttered, shoving Marinette’s pill compact and face wash aside as she returned the toothpaste to its spot. “So...what do you want to do for lunch?”

Groaning, Marinette flipped off her ex-best friend as her stomach heaved.

Chapter Text

When Monday morning rolled around, Marinette and Alya were over their bout of self-induced stomach sickness and Marinette was ready to throw herself back into the work week.

She spent the better part of the day making calls and going over information for another upcoming exhibit that would be held in the east wing of the Belleville. It was still a long way off so she had time, but if she wasn’t working it would leave her vulnerable to thoughts that had no satisfying closure.

Like what she was going to do about Chat- Adrien- whatever the hell she was going to call him now. After an intense minute of inner debate she finally settled on Chat; the man she knew and fell in love with was very much a shameless scoundrel, and she had a feeling the facade he wore as Adrien was just as much a mask as the one he donned as Chat. Which made her itch even more to find out which face was truly real and which one was an act. Or maybe it was all an act.

This train of thought only served to rekindle her already smoldering frustration.

She wasn’t even aware she chewed the plastic clip off the end of her pen until it broke apart in her mouth.

Alya was right that staying mad at him would only be squandering away what little time she had, and time was a precious commodity at this point. There was no way of knowing exactly how much she had, but every day that passed was sand she spilled from her own hour glass.

Which left her off at a new conundrum; she had no way of contacting Chat so she could talk to him. All the numbers he’d used to text her the past few months were all conveniently out of use, or not responding, and she didn’t know a lick about where he lived.

Even looking up information on Adrien Agreste proved fruitless. According to the fashion company he modeled for, no appointments could be scheduled with Adrien because he was away on extended vacation. No one knew anything more about his whereabouts, or if they did they weren’t going to share them with her.

Marinette tried contacting Alya and asking her to dig up information on Adrien. Her best friend proved a wellspring of information, be it from her journalistic investigation skills, or because she was snooping through the files Nino already had on Adrien, or both... it was probably both. But the information turned out to be useless in the end. The address Alya found on file for him was not in use, he hadn’t been listed staying at his usual residences in Paris for months.

None of the phone numbers listed for him worked either, all of them routed back to the Gabriel Fashions modeling agency offices, which were a dead end.

She even stooped to digging through the contact information the museum had on file for him when he became a sponsor. The most that unearthed was a private number, which upon calling, she received a toneless greeting that wasn’t recognizable. When she asked to speak to Adrien Agreste in regards to business with the museum there was a long silence before someone, a male she deduced, began speaking quickly in Italian and she hung up feeling defeated

“Well, I know how old you are now.” Marinette clicked out of a tab on her computer. It was a simple Wikipedia article about Adrien’s professional life. There were a handful of personal information bits about his life that she placed close to no stock in, but was still pleased to learn he was thirty, roughly three years older than her.

She cast a glance at the neatly piled maps with their markers already starting to flake off, sitting on her spare desk; they were still pushed aside from the day Nino paid her a visit.

A sharp rap on the office door broke Marinette from her thoughts and she voiced permission to enter.

Her assistant, Juleka, pushed the door open far enough to peek into the office. “I got those files you wanted, and I retrieved a box from the basement for you.”

Marinette swiveled away from her desk, “Thanks, set them over there.” She gestured to the open space on the spare desk next to the maps.

Juleka complied, her quiet and reclusive personality keeping her from probing into her boss’s increasing unrest. She ducked out of the office without another word.

0000

Closing time for the museum eventually came, and Marinette walked Juleka out to the lobby, going over notes with her assistant before she departed for the evening.

“I could stay later.”

Marinette blinked at her gangly gothic assistant.

Juleka shrugged, “you’re staying late... I could stay late too... and help.”

“I’m staying late because I don’t want to go home.” Marinette admitted, glancing away to look at the other people in the lobby.

“Oh,” once more Juleka was kind enough not to pry. She followed her boss’s gaze to the two men at the reception desk.

Marinette was studying the individuals with unguarded curiosity. One was a night guard, a tall man with an impressive chin, and gelled hair that was frosted at the tip. He wasn’t wearing his hat, was clearly early and not yet on duty.

The other man was Max Kanté, their head computer technician. He stood with his arm propped against the desk, fiddling with his iPhone, while talking animatedly with the night guard.

“Max seems happy,” Marinette recognized that particular security guard, she’d seen him around on her late nights, but couldn’t recall his name. “I didn’t know he was buddies with the night guard.”

“Max and Kim became friends after Lila.” Her assistant supplied in a disinterested tone.

“After Lila?” Marinette was sheepish to admit she’d been so consumed with her own problems she hadn’t paid much attention to Max’s turbulent relationship with the flirty conservator.

Juleka heaved a quiet sigh. She wasn’t inclined to gossip, but Juleka was so silent people forgot she was around. As a result, she heard and saw a great deal more that went on in the museum than even the most nosey employees. “Lila finally released Max from her shark teeth about a month ago. Told him she couldn’t be the kind of girl he wanted... that she wasn’t ready for a serious relationship and didn’t want to lead him on anymore.”

Marinette quirked a brow and pursed her lips, silently wondering if her meddling had played a role in all this, and regretting ever getting involved. “That was... oddly mature of her.”

Juleka, perceptive as always, noticed her boss’s pensive expression and added, “She was nice, Max took it alright... I guess.”

Kim was gesticulating with animated enthusiasm, and although they couldn’t hear much of the conversation he appeared to be telling a hilarious story because Max was grinning widely.

“So Kim comes in early to hang with Max?”

“That’s a recent development,” droned Juleka. “Sometimes Max stays late to hang out with him.”

“Well, I’m happy Max made a friend,” Marinette turned to smile at her assistant.

“Don’t meddle.”

“I won’t.”

Juleka gave her a reproving look, but didn’t say anymore.

0000

His claws made a satisfying scrape against an arch in the ceiling. It felt nice to be crawling around the ceiling architecture of the museum once more, thrilling and comforting in the same breath.

Chat tested his leg, tensing the thigh muscle before relaxing. He had stretched before this little excursion, the last thing he wanted was to injure the leg muscle again, but there was still a nagging in the back of his mind that this next leap might be the one.

He took a long breath through his nose, readied his nerves and pushed off from the archway. The muscles in his legs sent him into a graceful and powerful leap, he landed against a ceiling beam well over a meter away. He caught the beam with his arms, claws digging to find purchase, and pulled himself up into a crouch.

It was perfect timing, because the clickety-clack of high heeled shoes preceded the arrival of the woman he’d come to stalk. She was accompanied by a night guard, the guard’s boots making a lighter noise against the marble tile, as guards were accustomed to treading lighter than the usual museum employees.

Chat Noir watched them pass beneath him, and it was only the subtle tensing in the Belleville curator’s shoulders that gave away her conscious awareness of him.

“You clever woman,” he praised, barely a whisper of breath against his lips. It would have drawn the guard’s attention and alerted him that something was wrong had she begun looking around curiously.

Rather than follow after them and risk the guard hearing him scuffle around the ceiling, Chat watched them disappear toward the offices.

In the pitch black above the reach of the security lights, Chat Noir stretched himself over the beam, lounging against cold metal, and resting his cheek against the cooled leather bracer on his arm, he watched the empty halls. Barely acknowledging a yearning restless feeling that ached in his chest and itched in his fingertips.

It was very easy to confuse with the ache of lovesick longing, and so he did.

He waited. Now that she knew he was in the building, he waited for her to come back to him, so they could talk... or something. The ever-present fear of her justified wrath kept him from making the first move.

Twenty minutes passed, the hour getting ever closer to ten o’clock, and she had yet to return his way.

And it was foolish to expect her to, he thought bitterly. Just because she’s in love with you doesn’t mean she’s going to fling herself back into your arms the next time you show your lying face.

He pushed up, stretching stiff limbs, and crawled onto a smaller ledge, following it through the corridor and over interspersed support beams.

The destination in mind was the entrance to the crawl spaces above the offices. His mind briefly entertaining scenarios of dropping into Marinette’s office and surprising her. Such scenarios usually devolved into more perverse thoughts, and the more reasonable parts of his mind were quick to remind him that all of those scenarios would no doubt result in him getting slapped.

And he would deserve it. Marinette deserved a proper apology, and...

“I need to tell her the truth.” Part of the truth, more truth than I’m currently telling her. She was already in danger, and knowing a bit more might actually help keep her safe at this point. At least, that’s what he was trying to convince himself.

Because it was hell trying to keep himself away from her, and it was getting harder and harder to focus on the heist.

Chat paused when he heard the click of heels against the marble again, and settled to perch against a pillar.

Marinette stepped out of the office wing, and headed for the entrance to the basement. He noted the box filled with rolled maps that she was clutching to her chest, attempting to peer around them and find the handle on the basement door. Her fingers fumbled with the handle, blindly punching in a code she had to know by heart, moments later she hauled the door open and disappeared down a darkened stairwell.

He resisted the urge to follow.

She emerged from the basement less than ten minutes later, and there was a frantic -almost run- in her steps, like she was in a hurry to exit the lower floor and return to the museum’s main level. Chat tucked that curiosity away for later.

He was more interested in the empty box she had clutched against her chest. It was the same one that held all the maps when she entered the basement, and now it was mapless. She walked right under his perch, without so much as a glance in his direction, or any sort of acknowledgement of his presence, and headed towards the maintenance door.

Chat frowned, and took off after her. What are you doing, chérie?

He leaped and dug claws into the top of a nearby pillar, dragging himself up and clinging to the surface to stare down at her.

She didn’t enter the closet, only dropped the box on the floor behind the pillar, dusted off her hands and the front of her blouse, then marched away.

He bit back the urge to call out to her, and felt his heart sink painfully against his ribs at her absence. His eyes flickered back to the box, scrutinizing it with mild curiosity before huffing.

She didn’t want to talk to him. Not tonight, and he would respect that.

Chat dislodged himself from the pillar and scurried through the ceiling to his usual exit.

“I’ll try again tomorrow.”

0000

The next night, when she dropped the box in the same spot, he realized it was conveniently in a blind spot of the security cameras. A place where the shadows were thick and the pillar hid the box from the view of passing guards.

The door in question was well away from any exhibit and being so close to the maintenance door meant if the box was discovered, it would appear meant for carrying some sort of supplies.

But it wasn’t.

“I know what you’re up to.” He murmured, and shifted his position on the beam. “I’m not going to do it.”

Chat followed her back towards the wing with the offices. He was contemplating how he was going to approach her and talk to her, when she was stopped by another museum employee. Someone else who had stayed late.

He moved a bit closer in order to eavesdrop on the conversation, not that it interested him much, he only wanted to hear his curator talk. The other employee he recognized as the museum’s conservator, at first glance she looked Italian with her rich dark hair and bronzed skin. Upon hearing her speak, and her accompanying accent, he concluded she was.

“Mind your own business, Dupain-Cheng.”

Chat narrowed his eyes down at the two women, having missed the start of their conversation.

“Is it too much to ask that we be civil with each other?” He could tell by her clipped tone and stiff posture that Marinette was irritated.

“I did what you asked and I’m not toying with him. You should be thrilled.” The Italian woman started tapping her foot in an impatient gesture while she clutched her belongings to her chest.

“I’m not worried about Max,” Marinette defended. “He seems to be fine. I’m worried about you.”

The woman scoffed, “Don’t be. We aren’t friends.”

“I never wanted to be your enemy.”

The Italian woman made another rude noise, and stalked past Marinette, heading off in the direction of the lobby. The curator watched her depart with a pensive expression, and after a minute her posture relaxed.

Chat barely caught the whispered, “Thank you.” She was alone, so it piqued his curiosity whom it was meant for.

Marinette didn’t stick around much longer and disappeared into her office, leaving him alone with his own thoughts.

In his restless agitation he wandered the ceiling architecture, until she returned an hour later to collect the box, and store it in the maintenance closet.

She didn’t so much as glance his direction, or look for him in the darkness.

0000

Wednesday night went exactly the same.

He watched from his perch as she dropped the box again, and he dug his claws into the metal.

“You can’t be serious,” he hissed. “This is demeaning.” This time he purposefully struck the toe of his boot against the beam, causing a dull metallic clang that echoed softly in the empty corridor.

Marinette didn’t even flinch, but turned and started off in the direction of her office.

Chat staggered on the beam, catching himself to keep from chasing after, and had to shift his weight to restore balance. He cast his glare at the unassuming cardboard box sitting on the marble floor, and considered it with cold calculation.

Nearly an hour passed, and Chat spent it picking through the ceiling, making circles around the various corridors before coming back to his perch above the box and grimacing down at the container.

Marinette would be back to collect the box in less than ten minutes, and the guard had already passed less than a quarter of an hour before, and wasn’t due to come back this way for awhile.

A silent growl rumbled in the back of his throat before settling into his chest.

Chat crawled along the precarious ledges, until he came to the pillar closest to the maintenance door. He released his grip, sliding down the marble surface until his boots connected with the ground, making only a whisper of noise.

With one begrudging sigh, he sacrificed the rest of his dignity and stepped inside the cardboard box. He made half a circle, considering the average size of the box before sinking down and folding himself up, pushing the limits of his incredible flexibility to keep from utterly destroying the container.

Still, he didn’t exactly fit.

“Okay, my lady,” he called in a subdued tone. “I did the thing. Will you please talk to me?”

He didn’t have to wait very long. It was only minutes before the distinct sound of her heels clicking indicated her approach. Although he’d been listening for that very sound, the wave of anxiety it brought had him fighting to stay put.

Run. Run now. She’s already shook hands with the devil and picked out your resting place in Hell.

The clickety-clack suddenly ceased, and his eyes were tracing patterns on the tile rather than looking at her. He knew she was close enough to see him, but didn’t dare look up and chance seeing fury in her eyes, instead he ran a claw over the lip of the cardboard box.

“...Can we talk now?”

“That depends on how many lies are going to ooze off your silver tongue.”

He slowly tilted his head up. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry you got caught,” she snapped.

He flinched and his gaze fell back to the floor. “There are things I want to tell you, things I will tell you. But this open area isn’t the place.”

He heard, rather than saw, her walk past him and unlock the maintenance door.

“Bring the box.”

He was about to get up when a synthetic camera sound chimed, and a flash of light washed over him.

On reflex he jumped, head snapping around to fix on the source of the flash causing him to lose balance and fall over, box and all. This prompted a series of corresponding flashes as he scrambled to crawl out of the box and regain his dignity.

“Did you just take a picture?” He bent to collect the mangled container.

Marinette sniffed and pocketed her cell phone. “I took several.”

“Why?!” He hastily stumbled to her side clutching the box in his claws.

Marinette gave him a side long glance and smirked before opening the door and pulling him along inside. “So I can lord this over you later.” She flicked the light on, and the room became illuminated in a dull yellow glow.

He almost voiced his protest, but clamped down on his tongue. Later. He liked the sound of later, it gave him hope that maybe he hadn’t completely screwed things up.

She pushed the door shut as soon as he was inside and took the box from him, breaking it down with an exaggerated slowness that he realized was meant only to distract herself.

Chat took a sharp breath. “I lied to you, and I know you’re angry, and your anger is more than justified, and if you want me to get lost and leave you alone I promise I will, but I had to talk to you at least once or I couldn’t live with-“

A finger pushed against his lips, and he narrowed his eyes on her hand, falling silent at her unspoken request. He barely registered that she had discarded the box at some point during his rambling.

Marinette took a step towards him, and brought her other hand up to the side of his face. He locked eyes with her, staring into the intense blue of her irides even as both her hands moved over his cheeks, fingers coming to rest on the edges of his mask.

There was a moment of panic that washed over him and he searched her eyes only to find the same curious vulnerability reflected there. The silence carried between them felt like an eternity and finally Chat reached up to run his fingertips gently over her exposed wrists.

“You may,” he whispered, answering the request that played almost on repeat in her eyes. His hands withdrew just as his eyelids fluttered shut.

He felt her fingers curl around the edges of his mask and lift it away from his face. The adhesive used to hold it in place tugging at his skin, and the chill of the air rushing to chase away the heat on his cheeks.

A breath hitched in the back of his throat, and a full minute passed.

Then her fingers ran over his face, tracing up the bridge of his nose and along his furrowed brows. The tension in his brow eased under her touch as she smoothed them out. Her hands were probably collecting some of the adhesive residue off his skin, but she didn’t seem to care, and continued her journey mapping out his naked face.

“I knew it was you.” She moved to cup the sides of his face.

Chat’s eyes blinked open and he studied her. He must’ve looked like a panda to her, with the black shadows of makeup around his eyes.

“I knew before I slept with you, before I slapped you. I knew even when you lied to me back at the railway.”

“But you-“

She cut him off, “I wasn’t completely sure, and there was still a lot of doubt. But part of me knew you were lying to me. The part that was sure I had you all figured out at the club.”

A nervous chuckle escaped his throat and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You scared the shit out of me at the club.”

“Good.” Marinette shoved the mask against his chest, and he fumbled to catch it before it could fall to the ground. “You deserved it you nasty cat.”

“I used burner cells to text you... after I left your apartment. I knew you were mapping out the area codes of the numbers, but I never actually left Paris,” Chat started in a low but sincere murmur. “When I encountered you at Chloe’s charity fundraiser without my mask, it irked me that you didn’t want to talk to me. You were so fiery and spirited with Chat Noir, but so cold and awkward to Adrien. I shamelessly chased you down after the party to see if you’d be more open to Chat.” He paused to assess her expression.

She was standing before him, speechless, fingers playing with the buttons on the cuffs of her blazer. Her searching gaze prompting him to go on.

So he did.

“I stole your ladybug charm with the intent to rile you up, but I actually keep it on my person... all the time.” He took a breath before continuing, “You’re probably familiar with the name of Paris’s mafia leader, Hawk Moth. His crime syndicate makes the news enough. I was shot by some of his men... I... I’ve been poking my nose in their business, and they don’t like me playing around on their turf.”

He chanced another glance at her, and felt his heart curl in on itself at the sight of the fear flickering over her expression.

There was a moment of silence as she digested that information. “Christ,” Marinette swore, and bit the end of her thumb.

“I’m sorry,” Chat whispered. “I’m a selfish bastard.” Well, now she knew he was playing with fire, it was enough for now. He wasn’t about to tell her that his father’s men had their eyes on the museum, if only to disrupt his heist. He would keep her safe. Only a select few knew about his association with Marinette; it was already more people than he’d like, but none of them had connections to his Father’s group. The instance at the club was the only thing that worried him, and that could be excused as coincidence; he had been there with Chloe and Nathaniel, not specifically for Marinette.

He really needed to have a word with Plagg.

“I knew that the first time I met you.” She took a shuddering breath, as if trying to calm her nerves. “Will you tell me why you stole the Medici’s Clock?”

“No.” He almost smiled when she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him. “There are things it’s better if you don’t know. I know I have no right to say that... I’ve lied to you so much, but you’re just going to have to trust me.”

“Well it’s not like I can force the truth out of you, and even if I did I couldn’t be sure it was the actual truth.”

He flinched, clenching his teeth for a moment. “I deserve that.”

Marinette stepped back to fold her arms over her chest and look him up and down, “Adrien Agreste, thirty years old. A model for Gabriel fashions by day and international thief, Chat Noir, by night. And you’re currently in Paris because you’re after the Bastet statue on display here at the Belleville. In the mean time you’re picking skirmishes with Paris’s equivalent to a Mafia?”

“You summed it up nicely.”

“Is there a reason you haven’t snatched what you came here for, and taken off like a bat out of hell?”

Chat reached up and scratched the shorter hairs on the back of his neck, feeling the heat crawl into his cheeks and having no mask to obscure it. “I’ve been a bit preoccupied.”

Marinette started and blinked owlishly at him.

“Something else caught my interest.”

“You’ve been risking your life, sticking around Paris, encroaching on Hawk Moth’s turf... because you want to see me?”

“Don’t romanticize it like that. My motives have been entirely selfish.”

Marinette’s expression softened, and she smiled at him.

“I said don’t!” He hissed, realizing she was putting too much stock into it. “To be fair, being shot in the leg put all of my plans on hold, kinda hard to steal a heavy-ass artifact when I can’t even wa-“

She didn’t let him finish talking.

She seized the bell on his neck and dragged him down for a kiss. It worked, as his capacity to make mouth noises was discarded in favor of her lips pressed hotly to his.

Whatever train his thoughts had been taking before promptly derailed, which was fine. More than fine, because she was kissing him, fervently. Both her hands now gripped the sides of his face, and she coaxed him to open his mouth. Chat obliged, letting her command the kiss, too far in the clouds and deliriously happy that she was kissing him again.

She backed him against one of the shelves, his back striking hard enough to jostle the contents and knock something onto the floor. He spared it very little concern, too swept up in her mouth on his, her tongue down his throat, and the woman who was quite possibly going to cause his knees to give out. At some point his hands had moved to grip her sides, holding onto her as if she might slip from his fingers, although it might have been for his own stability.

Chat loosed an agitated growl when she suddenly broke the kiss. He swooped to claim her mouth again, but she dodged, tilting her face just enough that he caught her cheek.

“I can’t stay in here any longer,” she began, her voice a hoarse whisper, “or it will look weird on the cameras that I came this way, but spent an unreasonable amount of time in the maintenance closet.”

He heard a crestfallen noise escape without consent and quickly amended with a controlled, “okay.”

Marinette backed away and began straightening her wrinkled clothing; he cast his gaze on the crumpled mask in his grip. He should say something, ask to see her again, ask if he’s forgiven; there was still something off between them and he wanted to make it right. Yet all he could do was watch her unlock the door, and start to pull it open.

She hesitated, her back to him she spoke once more. “Chat- Adrien, whatever you prefer-“

“I want you to call me whichever you prefer.”

There was silence for a moment before she spoke again, “if you need someplace safe to crash, and you still have those city keys, I believe my apartment is more than accessible.”

She didn’t wait for a response, and left the room.

It was just as well because she’d stunned him into silence.

 

Chapter Text

He didn’t go to her.

Instead he took his Jaguar for a spin, taking it out of Paris and driving in the direction of Étretat. The long drive gave him enough time to sort his thoughts, arriving at the coastal town just after midnight. Adrien parked his Jaguar out of town, near the cliffs, close enough that he could see the sea, it’s waters reflecting the soft light of the moon, but otherwise everything else was pitch black.

His head tilted back against the leather head rest. And his thoughts swam.

Marinette had gone home right after their interlude in the maintenance closet. He’d escaped the confines of the museum and reached the roof in time to watch her obnoxiously yellow Fiat Panda depart the parking garage, and although he wanted to follow her back to her apartment, put her risqué invitation to the test, he decided against it.

He needed time, needed to get away from that city, from her.

He wanted to make his decision with a clear head, and for the first time in months he didn’t feel the acute restless feeling. The cliffs, hours from the city of Paris, seemed to provide him with a source of serenity, and eased that constant itch he felt while in the capital. But it did nothing to remedy the ache in his chest from raw emotion.

The hours ticked away, and soon he could see the rays of light staining the night sky on the horizon. It wasn’t yet sunrise, only the sun’s light changing the hues of the night in preparation. The inky waters weren’t glimmering from the reflection of the moon anymore, and the entire countryside was just a blanket of pitch black, except for the town of Étretat nearby.

I’d like to watch the sunrise with her.

That stray thought was enough to send chills down his spine. It cemented what he’d already known all along. His response to her wasn’t purely physical, he didn’t want to just sleep with her, to pursue a good time. It hadn’t been pillow talk when he told her he wanted to whisk her away and show her the world. He wanted more.

By the time the sun broke over the horizon and painted the chalk cliffs of Étretat with its first morning rays, the black Jaguar was already gone and heading back to Paris.

0000

“Félix!” Adrien beat his fist against the aged wood of an apartment door. “I know you’re in there!”

After another minute of constant thumping, the door finally pulled open. He was greeted with a look of complete resentment on the face of a man who had not yet shaven, nor even had his first cup of coffee.

“Adrien,” Plagg started, and his tone was so sour it could have curdled milk. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

He ignored Plagg and shoved his way into the apartment, practically stepping over the shorter man in the process. His partner resisted the temptation to slam his front door closed, and instead made a dramatic show about closing it as softly as possible.

Adrien cast his eyes around the bare living space and frowned. “This place looks so... empty.” There was only the bare minimum of furniture, a tv, and a lamp. The room was so devoid of any personality that it could have been a hotel room. If this was how his partner lived, it was no wonder Plagg was coming over to his place so often.

“I wonder why.” Plagg growled sarcastically. “Maybe it’s because we don’t actually live in Paris, and this was supposed to be a temporary thing.”

Adrien ignored him and sank down on the plush couch. He ran his hand nervously over the remotes on the side table, before he retreated to trace the patterns on the upholstery.

Plagg heaved a sigh, and disappeared to the kitchen, he returned a minute later with two bottles of cheap beer and handed one to Adrien.

“I’d ask what’s eating ya, kid. But I already have a pretty good idea.”

Both men took a drink from the bottles, and a tense silence followed.

The older man scratched the stubble along his jaw before scrubbing a hand over his face and rubbing his tired eyes. “I’m going to be useless at the museum today.”

Adrien didn’t comment on the absurdity of that claim, and took another sip from his beer.

“So what was so important that you needed to wake me up at the crack of dawn? What could not have waited another hour at the least, so that I could’ve woken up peacefully, and we coulda had this chat over breakfast?”

Adrien rose up from the couch and began pacing the length of the room, and Plagg could only sigh at the younger man’s impatience. He knew Plagg criticized his nervous gestures, and his inability to sit still; not that Adrien couldn’t, when he was focused and working he could sit still for hours if needed.

Finally he stopped moving, and stood looking out the window over the street. “I’m calling off the heist.”

The silence that followed his statement startled Adrien more than any outburst would have. He turned to look at his partner; he was seated on the arm of a chair, his mouth drawn in a tight line, and he was staring intensely at the bottle of beer in his hand. He took a long drink and stared off into the space before him.

Another moment passed; finally Plagg snorted and said, “Well, I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.”

“You aren’t mad?” Adrien set his own bottle of beer on the window sill and moved to lean on the back of a recliner.

“We’ve spent nearly a year trying to pull off this heist, and had to pull out and regroup when things got dicey in London. I’m getting paid for my share of the work regardless of whether or not this heist actually happens, so there’s little point in being pissed that you’ve pulled out now. It’s a damn shame though, when the damn Bastet artifact is within your reach.” Plagg pressed the bottle against his forehead, and set his jaw. “I knew the moment you became obsessed with that curator, I saw you change. You’ve never been this focused on a woman before, and I could tell this was different from the very start, that’s why I wanted you to stay away from her. Because it was gonna lead to this.” He didn’t gesture to anything in particular, but waved his bottle in Adrien’s direction.

“You know it’s different too, don’t you?” Plagg asked. “You’ve only been this single-mindedly obsessed over something when it comes to a heist. Or your damned rivalry with your old man,” he added in an even more bitter tone. “What kind of future do you see with her? You know we can’t stay in Paris, do you plan on taking her with you?”

Adrien clenched his fists and stared down at the seat of the recliner with his shoulders hunched. “No.”

“Then what are you doing?” asked Plagg.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, “but I’ve decided I don’t want to hurt her. The exhibit, the museum, her career, it’s all very important to her. If I rob the museum, it could jeopardize everything for her; especially if Interpol finds out she’s been associating with me.”

“Fine.”

“You’re taking this a lot better than I thought you would,” said Adrien.

Plagg stood up and set his beer on the entertainment center. He approached the couch and paused to consider the furniture, “No, actually I’m pissed as hell. I’m going to overturn this couch, if you don’t mind.”

Adrien raised his brows and fought to hold off a smirk, his lips twitching from the effort.

Plagg didn’t wait for any sort of permission and bent over to grab the lip under the couch, Adrien had to duck his head to hide the grin on his face when it took his partner significantly more effort than he anticipated. Plagg groaned, and heaved the couch over before falling onto one knee to take a breath.

He glowered at Adrien when a snort escaped, and Plagg seized the lamp off the side table. For a split second Adrien thought he was going to smash it on the floor, but he set it gently on the upturned couch, then sent the side table crashing across the room with a solid kick from one of his short stocky legs.

Plagg met Adrien’s curious expression, and after a few steady breaths he said, “I’m renting this apartment and it came fully furnished. I don’t want to pay to replace the lamp.” He looked around at the overturned furniture then added, “And I’m not keen about cleaning up glass.”

The two men considered the partially wrecked living room with an air of amusement, and Plagg appeared to relax after venting some steam. He returned his earlier chair and sank down with a satisfied sigh. “So... how long are we staying in Paris then?”

0000

Marinette stepped off the elevator with the museum’s head of security and paused in the lobby next to one of the decorative floor plants.

“Ivan is bringing the kids by after lunch to tour the museum,” said Mylène Bruel. The head of security was a short stocky woman, with blonde hair that concealed pink and green peekaboo highlights. Typically she kept her hair pulled away from her face with a patterned handkerchief, and she wore practical but professional outfits, slacks and button-downs, with the occasional open sweater.

“Are you joining them?” asked Marinette. “I don’t think I’ve ever met your kids.”

Mylène nodded and smiled, “This’ll be their second time coming to the museum, I’ll be showing them the office wing and security office as well, so they get to see where their Mom works.”

“You should swing by my office, I’d love to meet them, and I haven’t seen Ivan in ages...” she trailed off when a familiar chill crawled up her spine, before morphing into a heated sensation. It made the back of her neck burn only for a moment before pooling in the base of her skull. She welcomed it almost unconsciously, her body tensing at first before relaxing into the familiar presence.

Mylène blinked at her owlishly, taking notice of Marinette’s sudden shift in composure. She followed the head Curator’s gaze across the lobby to the front desk where an attractive blonde man was signing in.

“Isn’t that Adrien Agreste?”

“Yeah,” Marinette’s response came out a little breathier than she intended.

“I wonder what brings him into the museum,” Mylène chirped conversationally.

Marinette didn’t take her eyes off of Adrien, he didn’t appear to notice her or Myléne, and due to the decorative floor plant they were obscured from the entrance of the museum; he wouldn’t have seen them upon entering. She couldn’t think of a single moment when she had the opportunity to get the proverbial drop on Adrien (Chat Noir) and the urge to follow him was almost too much to resist.

“He’s a sponsor for the Belleville,” Marinette explained, somewhat distracted as she watched Adrien step around the front desk and enter the rest of the museum. “He might be here to see Tikki.”

“He should’ve called to schedule an appointment then,” Mylène mused. “Miss Felicitas isn’t in her office today. She’s away at another museum.”

“Mhm.” Marinette didn’t really hear the other woman speak, she was lost in thought staring at the place Adrien had been,

“As director in training, I guess that means the responsibility falls on you.” Mylène prodded her side. “Right?”

“Something like that.”

Mylène frowned and prodded Marinette in the ribs a little harder. “You’d best catch up with him before he gets lost then.”

00

He looked exhausted, she noted. Marinette followed him at a distance through the museum, and it piqued her interest when he didn’t head for the office wing, but instead stepped into the west wing that housed the Egyptian exhibit.

She lost sight of him for a moment and picked up her pace, slipping into the wing after him and blinking to adjust to the darkness. The west wing was dimly lit in order to protect the ancient artifacts from excessive light exposure.

Adrien disappeared around an enormous statue, and she followed him, realizing exactly what his intended destination was. Sure enough, she caught up with him at the Bastet display. He stood there dressed in a plain white button-down shirt, over a dark patterned t-shirt, and dark-washed blue jeans; with his hands shoved in his pockets he looked quite unassuming. The only thing she found peculiar about his appearance were the dark circles under his eyes, and the messy unkempt style of his blonde hair, as if he’d spent the last few hours combing his fingers through it.

The dim light that lit the artifact he was staring wordlessly at also cast long shadows over his face and caught the golden quality of his hair. For the brief moment she observed him, he looked almost surreal; this was Chat Noir in the light of day and without his mask.

The large carved cat statue, made of polished black stone and gold, gleamed on the pedestal before him. An intricate web of security measures, (touch censors, weight sensors, and even video surveillance) invisible to the naked eye, protecting the statue from the thief standing before it. There was a look of want, of covetous greed in his expression, so subtle that if she hadn’t known to look for it, she might not have noticed it at all... and for a brief moment it struck a chord of fear and anger inside her.

“Good morning, chérie.” Adrien looked up from the artifact and smiled at her.

Marinette stepped from her spot behind a pillar and out of its shadows. “How long did you know I was there?”

He turned his back on the statue, his hands still in his pockets. The fact that his hands remained pocketed the entire time, may have been a gesture of good faith on his part. To show her he had no intention of pulling anything sneaky, but it did little to put her at ease. “I knew the moment you followed me into the central room of the museum. I recognize the pattern, and the weight of your foot steps,” he admitted.

“Why are you here, Adrien?” If she’d been holding anything she would’ve clutched it to her chest, but empty handed, she opted for crossing her arms over her breasts, fingers pulling at the buttons on her cuffs instead.

He stepped back from the Bastet display, and the shadows crawled over his face once away from the dim lighting. “I should think that was obvious, Marinette.” There was a playful quality laced in his voice, almost teasing.

She cast her eyes on the artifact, then back at him unable to read his expression properly. “You aren’t stupid enough to attempt it, not right now,” she murmured low enough for only him to hear.

He gave her the most boyishly adoring and innocent smile that it startled her, made her heart ache painfully, and left her annoyingly perplexed.

“If you’re here about your sponsorship to the museum, you’ll have to come with me to my office. Ms. Felicitas is away for the day.” She turned her back on him and started out of the Egyptian exhibit before she did something foolish. Like, walk into his arms, kiss him breathless, or mount him against one of the walls —wasn’t it her job to display art in this museum?

She knew he was following her, even though his footsteps were too light and controlled to hear, she still felt his presence tickling her senses like a heated breath. And although the temptation to look back at him was great, she retained control of herself, and her rampant emotions, holding tight to her air of indifference.

“I’m not here about my sponsorship,” he said, once they reached the office wing.

Ignoring the way her heart stuttered, and the affect he had on her -an affect that only evolved after learning Adrien’s peculiar interest in her had been because he’d been Chat all along- she paused at the door to her own office. The hand she rested on the door knob was shaking, not from fear, but conflicted emotions. She spared him a curious look.

He was smiling at her, charming, effortless, and attractive. How had she not realized it was him sooner? It felt so obvious now.

00

There hadn’t been a concrete plan when he came to the museum. The restlessness had returned as soon as he’d gotten back to Paris, and he was too exhausted to think straight. He shouldn’t have gone to see her in public like this.

Still, he couldn’t quell the warmth he felt at the sight of her.

"I see how it is." Marinette nodded, she pushed open the door to her office and stepped inside.

"You...do?" Adrien asked, confused. He followed her only so far as the threshold.

"You're a cat." Marinette nodded. "And clearly your feline tendencies are leaking over to your human disguise."

"Oh yeah?" Adrien leaned against the door, amused. "And just how is that?"

"Cats." Marinette's tongue clicked scoldingly. "They only want to be petted on their terms."

Adrien blinked. Grinning, he leaned closer to her to whisper in her ear. "I'd be happy to let you pet me on any terms, My Lady."

"Really?" Marinette leaned back, affecting a confused air. "Because I swear that I invited you over to be petted just last night..."

Her voice didn't have any real bite to it: there was no anger or condemnation. The expression she slid him as the words left her mouth, coupled with a faint tug of her lips, told him that she was in fact teasing him. But...there was a note there that had Adrien stilling. Something faint and uncertain, almost vulnerable, pain under the humor.

"And I left my lady disappointed." He murmured. He readied an apology on the tip of his tongue, but he never got a chance. The faint echo of a foot pattern he’d spent a lot of time memorizing alerted him to the other man’s presence before he even entered the office wing. “Are you sure Ms. Felicitas won’t be in her office today?”

Marinette started at his sudden change of topic, abruptly steering the discussion to something business related. He was pleased when she didn’t make a fuss and merely rolled with it, “I’m afraid so. I can schedule you an appointment with her as soon as tomorrow morning if you’d like.”

Adrien put on a practiced look of disappointment, he’d learned to school his expressions as a teenage model, and it came almost naturally for him now. “Tomorrow won’t work, I’ve got prior engagements.”

“Excuse me,” a male voice cut in, and Adrien pretended to be appropriately surprised.

“I’m sorry.” He stepped back from the office threshold, and smiled warmly at the bespectacled Interpol agent.

“I don’t mean to interrupt but is Miss Dupain-Cheng in her office?” Agent Lahiffe was looking informal today, if he was on official business he must have been keeping a low profile.

Adrien cocked a head to the office interior, “I was on my way out anyway.” He moved to step away from the door and let Agent Lahiffe by, but paused and leaned back into Marinette’s office. “Miss Dupain-Cheng, let me write my number down for you. Have Ms. Felicitas call me when she’s gets back.” He snatched a pen and a post-it note and scribbled his personal cell then handed it to Marinette as casually as if he’d given her a business card. “Thank you for your time.”

There was a strained expression on her face, and her fingers were stiff when they brushed his to accept the scribbled number. She managed to smile politely at him, even if it was a little tight, and when she bid him farewell it was with a familiar stutter.

He almost laughed. Almost.

Adrien turned to address Agent Lahiffe, “Nino, right? We met back at the night club.” He made a friendly gesture using his thumb and index finger.

“Yeah,” Nino confirmed enthusiastically. “You’re Nath’s bro, Adrien right? How’s it going?”

Adrien noted the change in Nino’s vernacular; how his accent and speaking pattern were relaxed much like it had been back at the club. He studied the other man’s expressions for any sort of tell, but if Nino suspected him, the agent had an excellent poker face. “Great. I’m making the most of my vacation.” He resisted the urge to look at Marinette, keeping his eyes fixed on Nino. “It’s nice to see you again. You wanted to see Marinette, so I won’t waste anymore of your time.”

He gave Nino half a wave, and turned in the direction of the lobby.

“Take care man; we should all hang out together again sometime.”

“Sure.” He bit back the amusement that bubbled up at the suggestion. He knew enough to be wary of Agent Lahiffe’s friendly demeanor. This man wanted to be his friend? Right. Plagg had informed him that Interpol was running background checks on him, digging into his past.

Adrien made his way back to the lobby, but he couldn’t quite quell his suspicions about the Interpol agent. It wasn’t peculiar given Nino was Marinette’s friend, and her best friend’s fiancé, but he’d been playing this song and dance with Interpol too long not to be wary.

He would ask Plagg to keep an ear open at the museum, do a little digging of their own and find out what Agent Lahiffe was up to... if anything.

A conflict in the lobby drew his attention, enough to distract Adrien from his thoughts.

The museum’s head of security and one of the guards were escorting a man off the premises. The man was informed to stop taking pictures of people in the museum, and the security guard threatened that if they caught him doing it again, they would destroy his cell phone.

Head of security quickly stepped in, the tiny woman shot the guard a warning look, and told the suspicious photographer to leave or they would call the police.

Adrien watched the man leave, and observed the two members of the museum security. His blood felt cold, and he couldn’t shake the bad feeling. Was this a reoccurring problem at the Belleville, or was this a recent development?

0000

An early fall rainstorm pelted Chat Noir on the rooftop of her apartment. Soaked blonde hair clung to his forehead when he paused at the edge overlooking the courtyard, and stared down at the soft glow from the entrance. Memories danced to the forefront of his thoughts drawing a fond smile to his lips.

His fingers itched, and the restless need to go to her drove him down the side of the building until he was dropping onto her Juliet balcony, gloved fingers grasping for purchase on the slicked iron railing. He tried the window before attempting to pick the lock, and was pleased to find it unlocked.

She was expecting him. It caused a thrill to burn through his veins.

Chat pushed open the glass and crawled over the railing, his entry accompanied by a shower of rain before he shut the window against the storm, sliding the lock into place. A brief scan of the living room confirmed nothing out of the ordinary, and the sounds from the kitchen alerted him to Marinette’s location. He winced at the squelching sound his suit made when he crept to the kitchen entrance.

“I didn’t receive a call or a text from you, so I hope it’s alright that I came to see you tonight.”

Marinette had her back towards him, and she was washing dishes. Her hands clutched at a bowl in the sink, and he noted her knuckles were white from strain. She didn’t turn to look at him.

Chat cautiously approached her. “Princess?” He placed hesitant hands gently on her shoulders, and could feel the tension there. “What’s happened?”

Marinette dropped the bowl in the sink, where it made a loud clatter but didn’t break, then shrugged away from his touch. Chat’s heart clenched painfully in his chest but he retreated a step back to grant her space, watching her yank a towel off the dish rack and dry her hands.

“Nothing.” She assured, but he noted the way she brought the towel to dry her face before turning to him.

He almost asked about the redness around her eyes but she cut him off.

“That number you gave me, I’ve called it before. Ended up reaching a man speaking a lot of Italian.”

Chat smiled sheepishly at her. His hand went to the back of his neck and began scratching at the shorter hairs.

“It was you!” Marinette made a noise and hurled the dish towel at him. He snatched it from the air without even thinking about the action. “Dry yourself off. You’re dripping water all over my floor!”

She started from the kitchen to the back of the apartment while Chat used the towel to mop the water off his suit, hair, and the surrounding floor. By the time he’d finished, she returned with a set of dry clothes and held them out for him.

He took the offered clothing, noting it was a pair of the sleeping pants she’d bought for him when he’d been injured. There was a cotton shirt, also one she bought before, but he had never worn in favor of teasing her.

Chat yanked at the bell on his neck, and began stripping out of the suit to change.

“Oh,” Marinette started, “r-right in my kitchen. Okay.” She moved to the coffee maker, and busied herself pouring a cup, but he caught the stealing glance over her shoulder.

“You’ve seen all of me before.” He said nonchalantly. He stripped off the last of the damp leather, leaving his boxer briefs, and began pulling on the sleepwear. The dry cotton felt warm and pleasant against his chilled skin, and he even put on the shirt to cover his upper body. Judging from her mood tonight wasn’t the best night to tease sexual tension.

“I’ll h-hang your things in the laundry room.”

Chat snatched her wrists before she could grab his folded suit from the counter. She wore a startled expression when he pulled her close, but he needed to know what had her so worked up.

“Please talk to me, chérie,” he whispered.

Her head dipped to stare at the material of his shirt, and Chat released one of her wrists to snatch her chin and dragged her back up to meet his eyes.

“Take off the mask, and be Adrien again.” She grabbed at the mask on his face, and pulled it away. It separated from his skin with relative ease, because of the minimal amount of adhesive he’d used that night, having no intention of wearing the accessory for long. There was also no black make-up around his eyes.

“I’m always Adrien,” he chuckled stiffly.

“I’m still reconciling that you’re both the same man.” She placed the mask on the counter behind him.

He took her hand still caged in his grip and pressed it against his cheek, slipping his fingers to cover hers. They stood there for several long minutes, Marinette’s glassy eyes roaming over his bare face, searching for something that made his heart ache painfully.

Tell her. Tell her right now. The truth, all of it.

“Adrien,” she whispered, then used her free hand to push the messy blonde hair away from his ear. She smiled and tears formed in the corners of her eyes when she saw his tiny gold hooped earring. “You’re my Chat Noir.”

Tell her.

“Yes.” He murmured, closing his eyes and leaning into her touch. I am yours.

“You’re still wearing cat ears,” she teased. Marinette yanked both her hands free and made to grab at the faux ears still clipped in his messy hair.

Adrien avoided her hands, ducking out of reach. “That’s because I like them.”

She let out a yelp when he seized her sides and hoisted her off the ground with ease.

Chat!

“Your cat wants to cuddle on the couch.” he carried her from the kitchen and into the living room, delighting in her mix of laughter and insincere protests. A minute later he fell back on the couch, pulling Marinette on top of him, both of them laughing rather breathlessly.

“Are you alright, Marinette?” He asked, voice taking on a serious quality.

She sent his heart beating erratically when her arms slipped around his neck and she buried her face under his chin. He returned the embrace, tightening his grip on her waist, pulling her closer. She was warm, and soft, and smelled beautifully even if the scent of dish soap still lingered.

“I- I’m fine. Work was just stressful today.”

He had a feeling it was something deeper, but chose to let it be rather than push her for answers. The reason for her mess of emotions could very well be his fault and the state of their nebulas relationship. And that was something that neither of them had a simple solution for.

“Speaking of your work,” he began, directing the topic to safer grounds. “I witnessed security escorting a suspicious photographer out of the museum today. What’s that all about?”

“Oh my god!” Marinette pulled away to look up at him. “So there are these people who keep hanging around the museum for the past few months, and they take photos of the strangest things: people, doors, and museum staff. It’s infrequent enough that we can’t do much about it, and it’s never the same person twice. I’ve brought it to the attention of our security, and even the agents who were investigating you, and no one will do anything about them except chase them out of the museum.”

Adrien felt his expression going hard, and set his jaw. It couldn’t be... why would he?

“That must be frustrating.”

“It is.” She huffed, and rested her chin against his chest.

For a moment he watched her, studied her pensive expression, and the way her lips pouted. She made his chest feel tight, simply from how adorable she looked.

Adrien leaned forward, watching Marinette try to continue watching him as he did so, grinning when her eyes crossed. Playfully, he bumped his nose against hers, rubbing the tips together, smile widening when she giggled and reciprocated. Unable to help himself, he leaned in, pressing his lips against hers in a quick peck before leaning back.

"Nu-uh." Marinette murmured, chasing after and pressing her lips against his. "I want a proper kiss."

Adrien hummed, unable to help the way his heart fluttered. His hand crept up, cupping the nape of her neck as he slotted their lips together.

Her lips were warm and dry, her demeanor playful as she caught his lower lip between her teeth and tugged. Tilting his head, he pulled her closer, letting her lead the kiss. Relishing the feel of her mouth moving against his, teeth stinging, then sucking to soothe. Her tongue traced the seam of his lips, flicking across his upper lip as he grinned.

"Do I have to do all the work here?" Marinette goaded, nipping his bottom lip.

"Maybe." Adrien teased. "It's been a long day; I'm feeling lazy."

"You're a cat." Marinette mumbled, her hand snaking up to tug at one of the ears still clipped in his hair. "You're always lazy."

He placed one last firm but teasing kiss on her lips before pulling away slowly. “Want to play Street Fighter with me?” Adrien finally suggested.

“Oh God, yes please.”

An hour after starting the game found them both on the floor, Marinette on her back and Adrien had her pinned, making out with her desperately. The tv displayed the static image of the pause screen, completely forgotten. They never made it to the bed... not until much later.

0000

When she was asleep he left her side to find Plagg, and after a heated debate, his partner agreed to help him investigate what his Father’s men were doing in the Belleville.

Marinette didn’t object to finding a passionate cat burglar in her bed when she woke up. Even if she complained later that he made her late for work.

The following days became a pleasant routine that Adrien had to admit he liked, even if they were laced with ulterior motives. The more time he spent with her, and the more energy they expended together, the less questions she asked about his night time excursions. He noted that something had Marinette’s nerves on an edge, jumping at shadows, but whenever he asked her about it she brushed it off as stress.

The nights he spent with her, dinner, movies, video games, heated bedroom activities. He enjoyed their time together until she fell asleep, then left before midnight to become Chat Noir. He would return to her in the early hours before she left for work, and became the cause of several more late mornings.

The mornings he would sleep, sometimes in her apartment, but sometimes he would crawl back to his own.

But the afternoons... the afternoons were his own to do as he pleased. And he spent those identifying suspicious individuals at the museum, picking the occasional pocket for a wallet or cell phone, and moving that information back to Plagg.

0000

“Is there a reason you’re hanging out in my ceiling?” Marinette asked, looking up to where her erstwhile lover was lurking with uncanny precision.

Not that her capability for finding him was much of a surprise anymore - in fact, Chat was more unnerved by the way the capability reassured him than anything else. He’d spent the past week making a game of trying to hide from her, using any manner of disguises and she had found him every time. Even wearing a wig, with a careful application of putty and paint altering his face and clothing changing his figure, her eyes had still locked onto his in a crowd, and held them.

“Not particularly.” He answered easily, nudging the ceiling tile aside and slipping out of the crawl space and into the open. The flip and twist were unnecessarily showy, but Marinette smiled in fond exasperation even as she rolled her eyes, so he counted it as a win. “Maybe I just wanted to visit you.”

“Mm, yes, I’m sure.” Marinette hummed, returning her attention to her keyboard. “Your various disguises this week were just because you wanted to visit me, and had absolutely nothing to do with casing my workplace in order to rob it. Yes, I absolutely believe that.”

In point of fact, it hadn’t: Adrien had already decided that he couldn’t rob the Belleville, and Plagg had raked him over the coals about it (again) just yesterday. But Adrien just couldn’t - not now, not with Marinette being here, and not with this thing between them. However, he would rather her think that than know the truth, that his father was having her watched. Toe the line, or…

Well. That wasn’t going to happen. Adrien was going to keep her safe; even if that meant her thinking he was looking for ways to rob her blind. Marinette glanced up from her keyboard, eyebrow arching questioningly, and Chat realized he’d been silent too long.

“Is that what you think?” He asked, a smirk tugging at his lips as he stalked forward, deliberately rolling his hips into the boneless glide that he knew drew people’s eyes.

“Of course.” Marinette snorted, but her eyes lingered. “Why else would you be here?”

“Why else indeed?” Chat purred, leaning over her chair to nibble the shell of her ear, smirking as she shifted out of range and shot him an impatient look.

“Really?” She huffed. “I need to do things, Adrien!”

“So do them.” Chat taunted, chasing her skin and pressing a kiss to her neck. “Nobody’s stopping you.”

“I beg to differ.” Marinette grumbled, but her head was already tilting, giving him better access to the smooth expanse of skin along the column of her throat. Chat schooled his expression, pulling back to nose behind her ear so she didn’t see or feel the grin trying to break free. He’d only intended to distract her, but she seemed receptive enough to his teasing that he was loathe to stop. In fact…

Marinette’s breath hitched, just a little, as he trailed gloved fingertips across her neck. Gently grasping the back of it, he pressed his thumb into the hollow behind her ear, tilting her head further as he nibbled along her throat. Teasing and tasting, he used his teeth to nip along the sensitive skin and his lips and tongue to soothe the ache as Marinette shifted in her chair, struggling to concentrate. Adrien’s hand shifted, fingers tangling into dark hair gathered in a loose knot at the base of her neck, and he paused to watch his finger sift through the strands, black on black, as he worked to loosen them. Marinette arched into the touch a little as his claws scraped across her scalp, and Chat brought his other hand up to tug the pins holding the style loose, dropping them onto the desk as his lover complained.

“Chat,” Marinette whined, but it was half-hearted at best as Chat, satisfied as her hair tumbled loose, turned his wrist to dig his thumb into the base of her skull. Carefully, he began massaging away the stiffness that gathered there. “What if somebody comes by?”

“Who?” Chat Noir murmured, scratching his claws gently and watching as her eyes fluttered closed, head dropping forward as the tension fled her frame. “The museum closed hours ago. No patrons are going to see you with your hair down, and only a few employees are lurking about at this hour. What will they see? A woman who has taken the pins out of her hair after a long day? The scandal.”

“You’re a pain.” Marinette murmured, and Chat’s lips quirked.

“I’m your pain.” He teased, returning his mouth to her ear, drawing the lobe between his teeth and biting gently as his hand continued to massage her neck. Marinette hummed, fingers lying quiescent on the keyboard as he continued his ministrations, tracing the shell of her ear, pressing kisses along the pulse in her neck before drifting down to nose at the collar of her conservative blouse.

“Chat,” Marinette shivered as his hand came up, one clawed finger dipping under her collar to trace the delicate skin underneath before retreating and slipping the first button loose.

“Tell me no, Princess,” Chat whispered, his voice low and hoarse as he nudged the collar aside, “and I’ll stop.”

Marinette said nothing, only shifting further, and Chat slipped a second button loose. His other hand moved lower, massaging the base of her neck, pushing the collar aside to reach the tendons of her shoulders as his mouth nibbled at newly exposed skin.

The knock on the door startled them both. He jerked upright, hand slipping out of her shirt as they stared at the door.

“Hide!” Marinette hissed, shoving Chat down and under the desk. “Come in!” She called as soon as he was safely stowed away.

“Hey, Marinette.” Chat would know that sarcastic drawl anywhere, and rolled his eyes as he tried to stuff himself in the small space allotted for her legs underneath the desk. “I saw your light was still on. What are you doing here so late?”

“Who, me?” Marinette shifted nervously. “Nothing, nothing. Just getting some work done. Um, what are you doing here?”

Really? She wanted to have a conversation? Chat rolled his eyes again, trying to figure out if he would be in trouble for stretching his legs out - Felix wouldn’t see them from the door, and they were going to cramp in a minute. Probably, he decided, as Felix continued to converse with Marinette - idle office chatter from the sound of it. Something about a meeting, and plans for the next new exhibit.

He probably knew he was there, Adrien huffed silently, and was keeping the conversation going just to mess with him as payback for calling off the heist. It was exactly the kind of thing that cheese-scarfing layabout would do. And he would continue doing it until Marinette was so nervous and overwrought that she would turn him down flat as soon as the door closed.

Chat Noir blinked at Marinette’s bare knees as they shifted, the loose skirt she was wearing fluttering with the movement. Slowly, a smile curled his lips. Very well, he decided abruptly, if he was going to have to figure out how to climb out of the building with a raging hard-on after Felix finished talking Marinette into a puddle of anxiety, he was going to have some fun on the way out.

Pulling off his gloves, he reached out, curling an ungloved hand around Marinette’s leg, rubbing circles around her ankle before tracing his fingers up and down the back of her calf. Marinette shifted, but didn’t otherwise stop him, so he repeated the motion, sliding a finger into the bend in her knee, tracing the crease as he watched her muscles tense.

Still he wasn’t being kicked, so he took that as encouragement. Curiously, he repeated the maneuver, drawing his finger up and around the outside of her leg, nudging her skirt higher. Her leg twitched, but didn’t otherwise move.

Well then…

Chat kept going - tracing her ankle, pulling his fingers up her calf, nudging her skirt higher as he did and relishing the feel of her warm skin under the pads of his fingers. In all their time together, he hadn’t really gotten to appreciate her legs properly - they’d been too needy, too frantic, and too desperate for each other. No time like the present to rectify the situation, he decided, pressing a kiss to her knee, fingers curling around her calf to stop it from jerking into him as it twitched. He left his lips there as it stilled, soothing the tense muscles under his fingers with gentle strokes before reaching up, sliding his hand under her skirt to wrap over her thigh as he kissed the skin he could reach.

Felix was still talking, he noticed with mild annoyance. Chat knew the jerk was aware he was in the vicinity, and would give even odds that the pest would further know he was crammed underneath the desk.

Jokes on him, Chat Noir thought with vindictive glee as he wedged his shoulder in between Marinette’s knees, forcing her legs apart as he kissed his way up her thigh, he was right where he wanted to be. His hands reached up, grasping behind her hips to encourage her closer. When her legs tensed in silent protest, he suppressed a huff and tugged a bit more insistently.

She didn’t know about Felix, he reasoned, and was probably just looking out for his continued safety. It was touching, really, and he’d be suitably grateful later - and more than happy to show her how grateful he could be. Right now though, he’d rather be touching her, if only she would cooperate.

Luckily, it only took a few seconds to get her to scoot forward - they couldn’t get into a proper tug-of-war or she would give him away. Her rear lifted off the seat, slim hands pushing the seat back a bit so she could sit forward without being obvious about it. Pleased, Chat nosed his way up her legs, pushing her skirt aside as he did so and thanking any listening gods that she had chosen to wear something loose as opposed to the tighter pencil skirts that were also in her closet.

His eyebrows climbed as his fingers hit lace. What exactly was she wearing under her prim little curator outfit? Curious, he traced a fingertip over the designs before deciding to follow the path with his tongue.

Flowers, he decided, and some kind of mesh. It was good quality - he’d modeled enough clothing to know the difference between cheap and expensive, and these were the latter. Not that he cared at the moment, with the scent of her in his nose and her warm skin under his fingertips. His hands massaged her thighs absently as he mouthed at her sex, flicking his tongue out to run it along the seam of her lower lips, gratified when she jerked under him.

“Are you alright?” Felix’s voice drifted over.

“Fine! Fine.” Marinette squeaked as Chat continued to nip and suck at her clothed sex. “Just, uh, kicked my lunchbox over.”

Adrien grinned, tracing a fingertip along the crease of her thigh, sliding in under the seam of her underwear to find her already damp for him. Hooking his finger, he pulled the cloth to the side, raising his free hand and parting her lower lips to close his mouth directly over her clit.

She twitched under him, legs shifting restlessly as he worked her over with his tongue and mouth. He slid a finger into her, the ease of the motion sending a bolt of pure lust straight through him and leaving his already hard member aching as it strained the confines of his suit. His tongue flicked out as he pumped the digit into her, relishing the warmth and the way she coated his finger. The feel of her tightening around the digit, the minute twitches of muscles under her skin as she fought to hold still, and the smell of her arousal absorbed his attention. So much so that he didn’t even notice her conversation drawing to a close until she jerked back away from the desk, yanking her skirt up and glaring down at him, red-faced and furious.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” She hissed. “Are you trying to get caught?”

“What? I was bored.” Chat put on his most innocent expression, sticking his finger in his mouth and smiling when her jaw dropped. “You taste good, Princess.”

“You- You… Pervert!”

“Maybe.” Chat blinked up at her, smirking slowly. “Are you going to let me continue?”

“I shouldn’t.” Marinette huffed. “I should kick your horny butt right out of here.”

“Yeah,” Chat agreed, sliding his hands up her thighs and hooking his fingers on the waistband of her panties, “but you won’t.”

Marinette’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Sure about that, are you?” She practically growled it.

“My Lady would send me away?” Chat left off trying to remove the panties and pressed his lips to the inside of her knee, hand drifting up and down the back of her calf, keeping the touch light and teasing.

“Maybe.” Marinette sounded annoyed, but her body betrayed her and she didn’t flinch from his touch. Still, he knew that smiling was the wrong thing to do: if she thought he was amused at her discomfort, she really would kick him out. “I’m trying to keep you safe, you know. Hard to do that when you’re trying to out me by being… you.”

“I’m sorry, My Lady.” Chat pressed his lips to the other leg, dragging them up the smooth skin there and pressing another kiss further up. Marinette twitched, but didn’t stop him as his hand slid up her calf, over her knee before drifting to the inside of her thigh. He could hear her breath hitch, the barest hint of a breathy moan escaping as her legs unconsciously spread a little wider.

Daringly, he reached up, tracing a fingertip lightly over the seam of her underwear, gently flicking her clothed clit. “Let me make it up to you.”

Biting her lip, Marinette nodded.

Ignoring his straining erection, Chat rose to his knees, pushing the skirt up and out of the way, inhaling sharply when her underwear came into view.

“Oh, Princess,” he breathed, “is this what you’ve been hiding under those prim little skirts and properly buttoned shirts?”

He’d been right about the lace...and the mesh. Delicate red rosettes covered her most intimate parts, sewn into fine black mesh that almost obscured her skin. The red darkened to nearly burgundy where his mouth and her own response had dampened it, and Chat bit back a groan as his dick twitched at the memory. Was the back the same as the front? He wasn’t sure, but suddenly desperately wanted to know.

“Maybe.” Marinette smirked down at him cheekily. “Just because I have to wear work appropriate attire does not mean I have to dress like a frumpy librarian underneath it.”

Adrien had never been particularly religious, but seeing as he was already on his knees, he took a moment to cast his eyes heavenward and say a small (but fervent) prayer to whichever god had directed him to Marinette and her sexy panties.

“If I’d known you were wearing these, I don’t think I’d have been able to resist you this long.” He admitted. “Were you wearing these when we first met? Or at the hotel bar?”

“What do you think?” Marinette smirked at him.

“I’m going to die.” Chat muttered, leaning forward to press kisses to the tops of her legs as he slid his fingers back into the waistband and dragged it down. Marinette helpfully lifted her butt this time so he could slide them off, and Chat could see that the back was like the front. “I’m going to die, and it’s going to be amazing. I can die a happy Chat.”

“Le petite morte?” Marinette’s lips quirked as he leaned back, sliding the future fantasy fuel down over her legs and carefully past her shoes.

“Not yet.” He murmured, holding her gaze as he picked up one heel-clad foot, kissing the ankle before setting it atop his shoulder and sliding forward. “I want to see you first.”

He brushed his cheek over the side of her calf, pressing his lips to the inside of her knee and watched her shudder as he nibbled her thigh. Wedging his shoulder against her to force her legs wider, he reached up, wrapping his hands around her waist and dragging her to the edge of her office chair, where he met her with his mouth. Licking a broad stripe up her sex, he closed his lips around her clit, sucking strongly as Marinette moaned softly.

“I want to see you fall apart.” He breathed, letting the warm air from his words wash over sensitive skin as he kissed her thighs. Nudging the skirt aside, he pressed his mouth to her hip bone as he dipped two fingers in, curling them into her heat and relishing the way her breath hitched. He dipped his head back down, returning to the little bundle of nerves; taking his time and exploring what made her writhe, grinning when she tightened around his fingers tellingly.

Standing swiftly, he leaned over her, one hand rising to help him balance while the other continued to press into her. Her pupils were blown wide as she stared at him, hands rising to grip his shoulders and tug him down to her. Leaning down, he captured her lips with his own, swallowing the soft sounds she made as she came undone.

“What about-?” Marinette panted, gesturing at the very obvious problem in the front of his suit.

“Oh, we’re not done yet.” Chat Noir murmured, nuzzling behind her ear to press a kiss to the sensitive skin there.

“Are you kidding?” Marinette laughed breathlessly. “You’re not done?”

“Nu-uh.” Chat shook his head. “But seeing you like that… I’m not going to last long once I’m inside you, Princess. I needed you to enjoy it first.”

“Oh, so you’re saying it’ll be a quickie, is that it?” Marinette teased.

“Maybe you just don’t understand what you do to me.” Chat grinned against her neck. “You’re beautiful, and it’s a hell of an ego trip to watch you fall apart for me.”

“Well, what’s your plan then?” Marinette asked. “The chair has arms, so that’s out.”

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” Adrien muttered, nibbling his way up her neck, hand rising to cup the back of her head.

“Mm. I can see that.” He could hear the smile in her voice, and her hand closed over the bell at the base of his throat and tugged on it lightly. “Well, while you think about it, I’ll find something else to do.”

Chat groaned against her skin as he felt the teeth of the zipper separating slowly. Releasing her, he fumbled with his belt, tugging it free until it loosened and hit the ground with a thud. Plagg would be irate if any of the tech was broken, but he didn’t much care about that now. Marinette’s hand was already at his sternum, her head turning to capture his lips again as she rose and pushed against him.

Chat obediently stood up, letting her continue to pull the zipper down while they kissed. Briefly he considered reaching up and pulling her shirt apart - it would be so easy - but discarded the idea just as quickly as it formed: Marinette would not be well pleased if he ruined her clothing just for the pleasure of hearing buttons bounce around the room. Instead, he reached around her slow-moving hand, slipping the buttons through their holes and letting the fabric part of its own accord as he did.

Marinette batted his hands away, pressing against him as she reached up to start tugging the catsuit down his shoulders. Chat Noir obediently shrugged out of it, tugging the slick sleeves over his wrists and helping her push it down his hips. He shivered as the cool air of the museum hit his skin, but Marinette’s hand cupping him distracted him from the slight chill as she licked and kissed her way down his chest.

Marinette kissing Chat’s chestHer thoughts were obvious as she leaned down, and Chat tipped his head back, eye sliding closed as he savored the feel of her lips trailing down his sternum. She was good - almost too good, he thought ruefully, as her tongue nipped at the underside of his ribs, causing the muscles to involuntarily flinch. Reaching back, he gripped the edge of the desk, leaning on it as her tongue swirled around his navel and he fought to control his breathing.

The desk. Chat almost laughed at himself for neglecting to find the obvious solution - it wasn’t like the desk was easy to miss. Grinning, he reached down, running his fingers through her hair, tugging gently to get her to pause and look up at him questioningly. Not saying anything, he tapped his fingers against the wood of the desk. Marinette’s brows furrowed briefly, and then, with a rueful huff of laughter, her expression cleared.

“Are you done thinking, then?” She teased.

“Yes.” Chat replied, pulling her to her feet and turning to push the oddaments on the desk aside. “I do believe I’ve found the answer.”

Marinette grabbed the folders and papers lying on her desk, stacking them up and shoving them unceremoniously into a drawer. Chat swept the loose pens and highlighters, random odds and ends into the same drawer before slamming it decisively. Marinette giggled as his fingers dug into her waist, lifting her the scant inch or so and settling her onto the desk.

“What’s so funny?” He asked, bemused, as he slid closer to her, wedging Marinette’s legs apart as he pressed up against her heat.

“Nothing.” Marinette snorted as she buried her face against his neck, and he couldn’t stop the smile at the embarrassed squeak that followed. “Tickles.”
“That tickles? Really…”

“No!” Marinette writhed, batting at his hands as they went for her sides again. “No, you do not get to do that!”

“But I like the way you squirm.” Chat grinned.

Marinette’s head snapped up and she glared at his unrepentant face. “Pervert.”

“You’ve accused me of that a couple of times tonight.” Chat observed, pressing closer and nibbling along her neck. “Keep it up, and I’m going to prove you right.”

“You already have.” Marinette grumbled, but let him press her back against the desk. Chat hummed in acknowledgement but didn’t otherwise respond, distracted as he flicked her shirt apart to admire her bra.

“Matching lingerie.” He breathed, taking in the way embroidered red roses scattered over dark mesh. “You are so lucky I didn’t know this was what you wore.”

Leaning down, he nibbled along the tops of the cups, tracing them with his lips as his hand drifted down, pushing her skirt up to find her still wet and open. He dipped a finger in, then a second, setting his thumb to her clit and circling it idly as his free hand braced against the desk.

“Adrien,” Marinette admonished, and Chat’s heart tripped, just a little, to hear his name on her lips. “If you want to take it slow, we should get home first.”

Home. Chat Noir paused, overcome, before pushing the feeling down and distracting himself by exploring her cleavage. “Why is that, My Lady?”

“Somebody might come by.” Marinette’s breath caught as her leg hitched up over his hip.

“So turn off the light.” Chat rebutted, tracing his tongue around the faint outline of her areola.

“The night guards occasionally open offices.” Marinette tugged at his wrist. “So, not that I don’t enjoy what you’re doing - I definitely do - but this could be done a lot more comfortably in a different location.”

“Hmm.” Chat paused and considered as he mouthed along the curve of her breast. He let Marinette push his hand away, bracing it beside her head as she took him in hand and pumped him experimentally. His hips jerked, and he twitched in her grasp, reminding him of why he’d been so intent on getting her off in the first place. “Point.”

Marinette tugged his chin, bringing his torso up and forward as she pulled him to her, notching his head against her opening. One smooth push, and he was in, shuddering at the sensation of her heat closing around him as she pressed her lips against his, tongue flicking against the seam until they parted to let her in. Chat’s hips flexed as he lowered more of his weight onto her, feeling her tongue curl behind his teeth even as he pressed against her. He caught her tongue, biting down to sting before sucking to soothe as he continued to press into her, caught in the feelings of warmth and home, things he’d never experienced with other women before and found himself endlessly fascinated by in her.

Marinette made a small noise against him, her thighs pressing against his hips as her ankles locked behind his back, small hands stroking and encouraging him faster even as her back bowed in an attempt to get closer. Chat took advantage of the position, dragging his lips down her neck to trace them over her collarbone, delighting in the noises he pulled from her as he bit down on her shoulder. Marinette whimpered, fingernails digging into his back, tightening around him, and that was all it took. He was free falling, tumbling over an unseen abyss, his hands slipping under her shoulders to clutch against her as his hips flexed helplessly, pressing him as close as he could as he emptied into her.

He buried his face against her neck, needing something solid to ground him as he rode out the aftershocks, breathing her in, listening to her breathe as he came down from the high. Slowly, Marinette relaxed around him, her muscles loosening around his hips, and her fingers going from clenching to stroking. Chat closed his eyes and let her soothe him, relishing the feel of her fingernails scratching lightly up his neck and along his scalp.

“That was fun.” He murmured.

“It was.” Marinette agreed lightly. “I can definitely check it off my bucket list.”

“That was on your bucket list?” He asked, bemused.

“It wasn’t on yours?” Marinette shot back.

“I never really thought about it.” Chat murmured. He could possibly sleep like this, he thought, as long as his back didn’t cramp up. Warm and safe, cocooned in Marinette’s arms without worrying about his father and his machinations, or Interpol and their machinations. Just for a moment. Just for tonight.

“You should.” Marinette patted him on the head, nudging him with a shoulder. “It’s a great list. In the meantime, though, how about we find a location less...hard. Like my couch. Or my bed.”

“That sounds nice, too.” Chat admitted, regretfully releasing her and standing upright. Marinette sat up, pulling a few tissues from a box on the corner of her desk and handing them to him, before snagging a few more to clean herself up with. She smiled a thank you as he handed her her panties, she slipped them on and slid off the desk. Chat Noir dropped the soiled tissues into the trash can, picking up his belt to inspect it for damage before resettling it around his waist.

“Meet me at home?” She asked, looking up at him hopefully.

He couldn’t stop the warmth that spread through him at the words. His first job was to protect her - she wasn’t safe as long as she was around him. He knew it, and he knew he had to disentangle himself from her somehow, before they were both hurt. But they were close - so very close to something big, something immense, between them, and he desperately wanted to know what it was, even as he waited for the other shoe to drop and crush him. Still...

“Yeah,” he found himself saying, breathless as his heart constricted hopefully, “I’ll meet you at home.”

Chapter Text

She barely recalled the last time her alarm had actually been allowed to wake her up, and this morning was no exception. Had it been a week? Almost a week.

Claws pushed the hair away from her neck, and cool air rushed to the newly exposed skin. Marinette couldn't bring herself to open her eyes, knowing full well it was still before six am, and she wanted more sleep. Couldn't he at least give her a half hour, maybe even ten more minutes?

Warm, slightly chapped lips tickled her neck, then moved on to her ear, where teeth nipped playfully at her earlobe.

"Mmmm..." she started, flinching away from the attention. "Chat stop it."

"As you wish." He murmured, and pulled away from her. His weight settled on the mattress, and clawed fingers began combing through her hair.

Eventually she rolled over to face him, unable to keep herself from snuggling into his side. His warmth, the scent of leather, and his presence an intoxicating drug. She noted he was still in his catsuit when she draped her arm over his chest, and unconsciously her hand moved to play with the soundless bell at his neck.

"I smell coffee."

"That's because I made some, in case you wanted any when you woke up." He spoke in a low whisper, and it was odd to her ears.

"How thoughtful, Chaton." Her brain moved sluggishly, and although leather wasn't the most comfortable material to snuggle against she wasn't ready to admit defeat and get up.

Chat let out a pleased hum and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I also started your laundry, and brought you something for breakfast."

That caused Marinette to sit up in surprise. The image of a man dressed head to toe in a catsuit shoving dirty laundry into her itty bitty washing machine, was both ridiculous and ridiculously endearing. She stared down at him as owlishly as she could with bleary eyes, and noted he wasn't wearing his contacts today, seeing warm wheat-grass irides rather than toxic green sclera and slit pupils.

"No mask today?"

Adrien sported a lopsided smile, "no mask today," he confirmed.

"What prompted you to do my laundry?" She didn't hide her wandering eyes, that trailed down the length of his body, and committed the contours of his leather clad muscles to memory.

"I wanted to do things that would make you smile, even when I'm not around to see it."

Her eyes darted back up to his face, "I'm smiling now. And you are seeing it."

"But if you come home from work this afternoon, and find the laundry washed, dried and folded, purrhaps you will smile then too."

"I can't help but notice you aren't volunteering to cook me breakfast." Marinette crawled over him, then settled her lower half between his thighs and crossed her arms over his chest, resting her cheek against them.

Adrien winced, and wriggled a bit till his head was propped against the head board of her bed. "I can't cook, and if I tried you'd be left with nothing but a disaster in your kitchen." He cocked his head at her, and shifted his hips again. "That can't possibly be comfortable for you right now."

She closed her eyes and hummed, "it's not as comfortable as I was hoping. Your tool belt keeps jabbing me in the stomach." She didn't have to see Adrien's expression to know what he was thinking. His tool belt was draped across the desk chair on the other side of her bedroom. She shifted against him again, nothing more than an innocent attempt to make their positions more comfortable.

"Mon Dieu," his words spilled out in a raspy plea and he tipped his head back to look at the ceiling. "You tell me to stop it, and I'm being good this morning, and then you do this to me."

She decided to grant him mercy and ceased squirming in his lap in favor of discussing his personal life. "You can't cook at all?"

"Not one bit." He admitted, slowly getting control of his voice again. "I grew up with a cook, and never had time to learn as an adult. I was too busy modeling and liberating fine art from the less deserving."

Marinette's eyes flew open at his last comment. "You think you're more deserving of a piece of art than a museum?"

"I'm not Indiana Jones, chérie. I like the adventure, the challenges that test my skills, both mentally and physically. But I don't care to share my spoils with the rest of the world."

"And what exactly propelled the young Adrien Agreste to challenge himself both mentally and physically?" She asked, not with any malice in her tone, but genuine interest.

He appeared to contemplate her question for a moment before answering. "I had a strict childhood - even from a young age my Father was grooming me. He wanted me to be smart, skilled, obedient: he wanted me to be something great, but I never managed to meet his expectations. My mother left before I was fourteen," Adrien's mouth fell into a frown. "She couldn't stand him any more, and I don't really blame her. But her leaving him also meant she left me." He closed his eyes, and his expression became grim, reliving past memories. "Life with my father became even more regimented, and no matter how hard I worked, it was never enough. He never noticed me except to tell me what I was doing wrong. I decided that if he only paid attention to what I did wrong...well, I would give him something to pay attention to. So, when I was seventeen, I stole his book of inspirations."

"He kept it in a safe behind a huge painting of my mother. It had typical but dated security measures. I spent days watching him open that vault, memorized the codes, and I already knew his schedule and the schedule of the staff by heart. I made off with the book in broad daylight." He breathed an almost wistful sigh. "It was so thrilling, and exhilarating. I felt like I liberated more than a book that day. Of course my father caught me on camera, and I got in so much trouble. He informed me I was a lousy thief, sloppy... petty even. So the next time I made sure to steal something more valuable and I pushed even harder to prove I could do it without getting caught."

Marinette pinched the bridge of her nose, knitting her brows together in the process. "Let me get this straight... you became a thief because you wanted to rebel against your father?"

"Among other reasons," he shrugged. "I learned fast, and once I got good at it, I invented a name for myself. A persona if you will. I narrowed my targets down to only cat related things. Everything was to suit this new life I invented."

"Adrien obviously isn't hurting for money, if you aren't stealing for profit then what do you do with it all?"

"I collect it." He stated simply. "As I told you once before: I have this insatiable desire to surround myself with stolen property and twirl my mustache. I have my stashes, the locations of which I'll die before revealing."

"So who is the real you? Adrien? Or Chat?" She was almost afraid to ask the question, she didn't want to admit to herself that she fell in love with a lie. Chat was as real to her as the living breathing man in her arms.

"Both are real, because both are me. I enjoy wearing a suit and melting into the shadows, putting my skills to the test and taking things that don't belong to me. But I can't always be a man in a mask, sometimes I'm just a man. A man who likes music, video games, and movies, who works a job he hates most days..." he paused to raise a brow at Marinette then added, "and can't flirt with a museum curator to save his life."

"Chat had no trouble flirting with a museum curator," Marinette pointed out.

"Because it was the only way I could get you to talk to me, and even then you shot down all my advances."

"Did it ever occur to you that it might have been counter productive to hit on me as both Adrien and Chat?" She finally pushed herself up from his lap and slipped off the bed.

Adrien's eyes followed her across the room to the closet where she pulled out a light blue robe and slipped it over her shoulders."I hadn't actually considered the mess I was getting myself into at the time. My thought process was simply 'get to know you,' and figured since you considered me as two separate people I had twice the chances."

Marinette shot him a look on her way to the door, "God, you're such a shameless scoundrel." She beckoned him to follow her to the kitchen, and although it still unnerved her how silently he could move, she knew he was following her all the same. "Please tell me Nathaniel wasn't in on all of this. I swear he's been trying to set me up with you."

"Uhhhhh..." Adrien began uselessly. "Shit, I still owe him an explanation for my behavior last week."

"How long have you two been in cahoots? Did he get in touch with me just because of you?" Marinette dug around in the cabinet for a coffee mug and proceeded to pour herself a cup. Deciding that, if he said yes, she was ready to dump the hot coffee on his crotch. Part of her knew what to expect from Chat, she'd gone into this knowing full well his devious nature, but that didn't stop his behavior from being infuriating.

"No," Adrien defended. "I met him after I saw the two of you together in the museum. I-uh might've approached him in a fit of jealousy, but ended up walking away from it with an awkward friendship. If it makes you feel any better my feelings are apparently stupidly obvious and Nathaniel took pity on me."

She turned to prop her backside against the counter and took a sip from her coffee mug, "and all this time I thought Adrien Agreste was a huge flake and stood up his poor friend at the bar. Turns out you were the wounded cat burglar I had holed up in my bed. No wonder you never showed up."

"I really owe Nathaniel," Adrien mused aloud. "If he didn't try to blackmail me I wouldn't have seen you wearing my bell."

Marinette pushed away from the counter and purposefully brushed against Adrien on her way passed him. "I suppose he had something to do with you showing up on my doorstep to assault me with your mouth?"

He smiled, gaze trailing after her before he followed her to the bathroom. "Doorstep yes, mouth assault no, that bit of foolery was all my own. I saw you wearing my bell and forgot I wasn't supposed to be Chat at the time."

She stopped in front of the sink, and opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve her medications. Adrien propped his shoulder against the door frame, content to continue their conversation and entirely at ease around her.

Marinette closed the cabinets and had to look away from her reflection in the mirror. There was a sinking weight in her chest and she struggled to swallow it away. "I filled my prescription the other day. Can you grab the new bottle from my purse and bring it to me?"

"Anything for you, Princess."

She chanced a look in the mirror once he was gone, and had to bite her lip to keep from striking anything. It wasn't fair how much he trusted her.

Nino was convinced Adrien and Chat were the same person, the same way he was convinced Marinette was somehow involved with him. If she didn't give Nino something substantial soon...

"Chérie, is this the company your museum uses for an art preparator?" Adrien returned to the doorway, holding a business card up between his middle and index fingers. He offered her the bottle of prescription meds with his other hand.

She took the bottle from him and glanced at the card he held up. It was the one she got months ago from the man Lila had been hitting on at the Egyptian Exhibit Grand Opening. Théo, was his name if her memory served.

"It's not the usual company our museum uses. I got that business card months ago." She cocked her head to give him a curious look before taking her morning medication and chasing it with a cup of water. She began to refill her pill box when she asked, "why do you want to know?"

"The cat in me was curious," he answered, but she could've sworn there was a note of relief in his tone. "I've heard dubious things about the quality of this company."

"Art handler advice from an art thief." Marinette scoffed, and shook her head, chuckling at the absurdity.

"Who better to advise you, my lady?" He brushed his knuckles against his chest and grinned showing off his perfect teeth. "I've handled many works of art..." he caught her hip when she made to exit the bathroom, his claws digging teasingly before he snaked his arm around and pulled her close. "Purrhaps, I may handle this lovely masterpiece when you get off work?"

She flattened both her hands against his chest, blinking up at him for a moment before her lip began to quiver. "Pfffft-" she broke out into a fit of giggles. "You're such a dork."

"Me-ouch~" he feigned offense, his eyes softening with affection. "You wound me, my lady."

Marinette felt her heart skip at the look in his eyes before wrenching painfully. She wanted so desperately for him to tell her he loved her, almost as much as she hoped he didn't, because that would complicate things. If he left after saying he loved her... it would break her. If he robbed her museum after claiming he loved her, she would hate him for it.

So instead, she hid her pain and buried her face against his chest. She relaxed into the embrace, and felt him bring his other arm around to stroke her back.

"Not tonight, Chaton." She hoped he couldn't hear the way her voice cracked. "I'm going out with Alya after work."

Adrien fell silent, but she could feel his body tense.

"What's wrong?"

She felt his chest compress from the sigh he heaved before he whispered, "your friend is very clever. She's convinced she has me all figured out, and given she's engaged to the very Interpol agent who is tailing me..."

Marinette tipped her head back to look at him. "You're afraid she's going to tell Nino?"

"I'd be lying if I said she didn't make me tempted to run." He whispered.

She let her arms slip down to wrap around his mid-section, as if the act of holding onto him would keep him from fleeing. "Alya is my best friend, Chat. She's already promised me she won't talk."

He didn't say a word and his facial expression became blank and unreadable, but his silence was enough. He may trust her, but he didn't trust Alya. Not that she could blame him.

Except Alya wasn't the one leaking information about him to Interpol. It wasn't any worthwhile information, at least she hoped it wasn't... but it was still info about him. Marinette knew she should tell him Interpol was using her, but she also knew the moment she did, he would waltz out of her life like he'd never even been.

"...I," he began, before his voice dropped to a lower tone, "I trust you."

Marinette had to set her jaw to keep from letting anything show.

"I know."

She stepped away from, tilting her head down, and taking his hand. When she tugged him towards the bedroom, he came along readily. And without question. Marinette swallowed back everything else, looking up to smile at him again. She met Adrien's searching eyes, but he remained wordless.

"I need to get dressed for work," she explained, watching the concern ease out of his expression. "Are you going to spend the morning at my place?"

Adrien nodded, and Marinette bit the inside of her cheek.

She led him back down the hall, and into the room, releasing his hand once they were inside. Like the ridiculous man he was, Adrien threw himself across her bed and buried his face among the blankets.

"God, I'm tired." Still dressed in the leather, he rolled onto his side and folded his arms, placing his cheek across his wrists.

Marinette had to stop herself from giggling because the position coupled with his expression and messy hair made him look incredibly adorable. "Then go to sleep."

"I will," he paused to yawn, "...soon." His eyes followed her around room, watching her collect the different pieces of today's work outfit. "Do I get a sexy dress tease?" He purred.

"Is that supposed to be the opposite of a strip tease?"

"Mmmyes, except you're putting on the clothes."

Marinette snorted, and threw her skirt and blazer set over the back of the chair. "Is that what does it for you, Chat?" She pulled a clean set of lacy underwear from her dresser, and shed her nightclothes.

Half-lidded wheat-grass eyes studied her movements, darkening several shades as his pupils dilated. "I guess we'll find out," he murmured.

Her cheeks were burning, but she indulged him and pulled on the lacy lingerie, making certain to do so as tantalizingly slow and sensual and she could manage. Her fingers brushed her breasts unnecessarily as she clipped the bra together in the front. Then she knelt to pull the underwear up her thighs.

And managed to lose balance and trip, only just catching herself against the top of her dresser.

"Are you alright?" Adrien's head jerked up, eyes alert.

"Fine," she growled and straightened back up. Ears burning in mortification now, rather than mild embarrassment, "I'm a klutz."

She continued again out of spite for herself, and managed to get completely dressed without another mishap. She had just finished snapping the last button on her blazer cuff when she turned to eye her drowsy lover, still lounging lazily across her bed. His eyes were half-lidded again, but the lower half of his face was now hidden behind his folded arms, looking very much like an enigmatic cat.

"Did that do anything for you?" She smirked, and shook out her cuffs.

Adrien heaved a mournful sigh, "not as much as I was hoping. I'm actually more disappointed than turned on."

Marinette laughed at that, and grabbed her purse before moving around the bed to the nightstand to retrieve her cell phone. "You poor thing. I'll be home late tonight, but you're welcome to stop in for an encore where I remove the clothes."

"Hmmm, I like the sound of that." He sat up to meet her when she bent to kiss him goodbye.

At first his lips were gentle, a teasing kiss as his nose bumped playfully against hers. They broke away, and his mouth parted to say something. He hesitated and there was a flash of vulnerability behind his eyes.

A gasp escaped her when he pulled her in for a deeper more passionate kiss. His hand cradled the back of her neck, his head tilting, lips hungrily moving against hers. There was such a desperation to it, that when he broke away she felt breathless, as if he's pulled all the air from her lungs. Her arms were shaking where they supported her against the bed, and it was everything she had to keep from shucking the clothes off and crawling back into bed to be with him.

"I'll see you later, my beautiful princess."

0000

Adrien didn't show up at the museum to mess with her that afternoon. Instead she received a text that said, "having drinks with Nath." Followed by a photo of the two of them at a pub together.

It was innocent enough. Adrien was careful to keep any communication between them casual, and heavily guarded. Nothing sensitive was discussed, and he didn't allude to anything about his other life. If Interpol looked over the messages they wouldn't find anything incriminating.

Much different from the anonymous texts she used to receive from his burner cells. While those messages weren't inherently incriminating, they were still suspicious as hell.

Work wrapped up without anything exciting happening. Marinette stopped by Max's office on her way out. Félix was already gone for the day, and Max informed her he planned to stay late. When she asked if it had anything to do with a certain night guard he'd made buddies with, Max sank down in his chair, and tried to hide his face.

Marinette giggled until Juleka cleared her throat, and gave her a warning look. Both women bid the computer programmer a goodnight, and Marinette gathered her things before walking her assistant out to the parking garage.

Alya was already there, waiting beside her own car. She waved at Juleka, who politely returned the gesture before leaving the two women alone.

"I figured we could take my car," said Alya. "I'll bring you back here and drop you off with your car after dinner."

"That sounds great." Marinette agreed, double checking her Panda to make sure it was locked, and that she had everything she needed.

"So did you make nice with your cat-man?" Alya grinned over the top of her own vehicle.

"Alya!" She hissed at her friend. "Don't say that." She ducked into the passenger seat of Alya's car, and already her face was burning.

Alya joined her, sinking down behind the steering wheel. "Knowing you, you've done more than make nice. You've no doubt made naughty on every surface of your apartment."

Marinette huffed and glared out the window as Alya started the engine. "And my office."

"...what?"

"You heard me."

0000

Chat Noir was crouched on a rooftop when he felt it. A sharp lancing pain, straight through his chest, it robbed him of his breath, and left him gasping for air. The feeling that followed made every nerve in his body howl, an intense burning that screamed, "Go find her!"

"Mari!" He dropped the pair binoculars he'd been using, and twisted around.

Chat took off running without even knowing the direction. Was she at the museum? Her apartment?

His hand fumbled with the earpiece in his ear. Static hissed as a connection was made and he didn't even give his partner a chance to greet him.

"Plagg! Where is she?" Chat vaulted over another rooftop towards his car. "You know damn well who! Where is Marinette?!"

0000

It was just before nine when Alya dropped Marinette off outside the Belleville. The change in seasons brought about shorter days, and the sun had already set. It wasn't cold, but the shadows were already thick and the lights of the city flickering with life.

Marinette waved goodbye to Alya as her friend pulled away from the curb, watching the car disappear down the street.

She knew Chat probably wasn't around. Likely he was still out with Nath, or possibly doing something illegal. Best case scenario he was already at home waiting for her. But she couldn't help reaching out mentally, clearing her mind, and feeling for his presence.

The emptiness of the night was all that greeted her; city sounds of the Parisian night life. She had no reason to be disappointed, but that didn't stop her from admitting that she liked knowing Chat Noir was around.

The museum was already closed, and the lobby was dark except for some security lights, the night guards were no doubt already on patrol.

Marinette turned away from the building and headed for the nearby parking garage. Upon entering the parking structure she was greeted by a chill she hadn't felt for a very long time. It was that awkward anxiousness of being watched, and the last time she felt it like this had been her first meetings with Chat Noir.

"Chat?" Marinette called out. The structure was ominously quiet and empty. Only a few cars were parked, belonging to museum employees and night staff. Her own car was parked alone in its usual spot, just under one of the security lights.

She started for her Panda, attempting to stamp down the rising anxiety. She always hated this parking garage at night.

And yet even with Chat it had been different, as if something else had been connecting them. There had always been a certain weight or significance to his presence, but this anxious chill... it felt empty and wrong.

She had just made it to her car when she heard the scrape of footsteps that shouldn't have been there. The hand that had already been in her purse wrapped around the can of pepper spray.

She didn't even have time to grab her keys.

An unfriendly and hard hand came down on her shoulder, and Marinette reacted instantly, twisting her body around and jamming the palm of her free hand right up and into the man's nose. She felt the sickening crack when she broke it.

Then she saw the second man, neither one familiar to her, and both dressed in dark clothing. She barely saw the knife the second man pulled out, but he was too late, she already had the pepper spray aimed for his face.

Marinette got him straight in the eyes with the spray. He screamed and scrubbed furiously at his eyes, dropping his knife where it clattered to the ground.

Immediately she threw herself on the weapon, snatching it off the ground just as the first stranger recovered, and was grabbing for her.

Her first stab was clumsy, and wide. The man sank his fingers into her shoulder, his grip hard enough to leave bruises.

Marinette shrieked and lunged again with the knife, this time hitting flesh. She managed to bury the blade in the man's side, and he released her with an agonized yell.

She wanted to scream at him. Scream in triumph and fright, and that they should've thought twice before attacking her.

But her moment was short lived; large hands seized her from behind. One clamped down around her wrist, and twisted the knife from her grip. The other held her hand with the pepper spray aimed at the ground.

She struggled, writhing violently, but the man was much stronger than her. "Someone help me!"

"Fuck, I think the bitch stabbed me in the liver." The man with the broken nose snarled, blood oozing out his nostrils and down his face.

"Let's just kill her and be done with it."

The man with the bloodied nose -still clutching his side where dark blood oozed between his fingers- approached her.

"Please! Somebody help me!" Marinette screamed. Her body trembled as she continued to struggle in the grip of the other man.

The bloodied man drew his own knife. She saw the flash of silver.

She struggled harder, screaming for help that never came.

The man stumbled forward, and she felt the knife sink between her ribs.

He stabbed her again, this time farther down. She screamed again.

As if by some miracle the bloodied man let go of the knife and stumbled back, dropping to a knee. The man holding her hostage released her; tossing her aside and Marinette sank to the concrete crumpling against her Panda.

"We need to leave."

She wasn't sure who was speaking anymore. But her hands curled around the knife in her abdomen on instinct. Deciding she wasn't going to give it up.

"How bad is it?"

The voices were beginning to sound far away.

"If you don't get me to an ER I'm going to fucking die."

"What about the curator?"

"Fucking leave her. Whether she lives or dies, he'll get the message regardless."

Marinette barely registered that the men were leaving.

The next time she opened her eyes, she saw Max screaming at her. There was another figure behind him holding a bright light. Flashlight?

Her eyes drifted shut again.

"Kim! Call an ambulance! Call the police! She's been stabbed!"

"Tell agent Lahiffe..." Marinette barely pushed the words out between her lips. She felt so cold.

"What?" Max must've knelt down next to her because his voice sounded closer.

Marinette struggled to open her eyes. "Tell him... the knife for... prints..."

"Don't pull that out, Marinette. You'll bleed even more," Max continued to talk to her, but she couldn't understand the words anymore.

Chapter Text

He arrived to almost debilitating flashing lights upon a myriad of police vehicles and an ambulance. The rushing in his ears only served to drown out the din of police, paramedics, and the media already swarming the scene for answers. The shadowed steel beam he perched upon in the parking garage felt more like a metaphor beneath his claws than a very real structure. He was teetering on a precipice, ready to jump and throw everything away, just to rush to her side, and yet... there wasn't anything he could do to help. The hands of the paramedics were more capable than his own in this situation.

Agents Lahiffe and Haprele were already on the scene, as well as a handful of other police officers. The parking garage was practically swarming, he couldn't get close despite how much he wanted to.

Seeing the paramedics strapping Marinette to a gurney and loading her into the back of the ambulance was agony. It was a fight to hold himself in place, to keep from rushing down there.

It was his claws scraping against the structure that drew him out of his state.

They're taking her to the hospital... I could go there. But it would be hours before anyone could see Marinette, and it would raise suspicions for Adrien to waltz into the hospital demanding to see her.

As far as appearances went, they didn't seem to be anything more than acquaintances with only the museum in common. It wouldn't have mattered, but Agent Lahiffe was so close to her personal life. He would know when something wasn't right.

Chat felt like he was swimming through molasses as he left the scene, heading to a nearby abandoned warehouse that he was using to change - with Interpol watching his apartment, going home as Chat Noir was no longer an option.

It didn't take them long to realize that Interpol had become unusually interested in Adrien Agreste. Plagg had picked up on the background checks, and the poking around they were doing in Adrien's financial records. They wouldn't find anything - as he never sold anything he stole - all his money came from working for his father's fashion company. But all this attention was more than a slip of the tongue from a drunk Marinette at a club, someone was feeding the agent's curiosity. But all this meant that Adrien had to be extra cautious and take precautions when it came to where and when he donned his mask.

Plagg had hacked the city's records, and the warehouse looked like it was pending purchase by a straw-man corporation that had been set up years prior for this very purpose. In approximately 30 days, negotiations on the place would fall through, and the building would go back on the market. In the meantime, it was a safe place for Adrien to switch between personas without arousing suspicion.

Chat moved on autopilot, carefully removing his contacts and cat ears, stowing his outfit and inspecting his equipment for damage. A comb took care of his hair, and Adrien dimly noticed that his hands were starting to shake as he swept up the stray hairs and dumped them in a small bag for trash. Taking a deep breath, and then another, he stared at his hands until they steadied. Leaving the building, locking it carefully behind him with the dummy key he had acquired, Adrien carefully stowed his duffle in the false bottom of his trunk and climbed into the driver's seat.

Two blocks from his apartment, he pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store - no telling if his apartment was bugged or not, and better to play it safe than to be sorry, especially in this case. Taking another breath, he pulled out his cell phone and punched in a number he'd known since childhood, though he'd hoped to never need to dial it again.

"Father," he said coldly, when the line picked up on the second ring, "we need to talk."

0000

The scent of the hospital stung his nose, and the white sterile walls and floor only filled him with a sense of dread. Hours prior it had been his anger that had kept him grounded enough to function, but that had fizzled out leaving him weak with fear and wrecked with worry.

Adrien almost failed to register the hand that fell on his shoulder, it squeezed just firm enough to convey comfort, and draw his thoughts out of the spiraling black miasma that was consuming him.

"Hey, this way." Nathaniel pointed him down a hall he'd almost walked right past.

Adrien replied, by mouthing a silent, "thank you," before both men started down the new corridor towards Marinette's room.

It was ultimately Nathaniel that opened the door to Marinette's hospital room, Adrien stood off to the side in case agents Lahiffe or Haprele were present. To no one's surprise the only visitor she had this early in the morning was Alya.

Alya was a mess and blinked up at them when they entered the room. She scrutinized Nath for barely a second before her eyes narrowed on Adrien and her expression grew hard.

But Adrien didn't care. His gaze moved passed Alya, to the hospital bed behind her, and more importantly to the dark-haired woman who didn't even notice there were more visitors. Every last shred of restraint that held him together before broke away, and Adrien was pushing past his friend, and the bespectacled woman, to get to Marinette.

"Mari! Chérie," he dropped to his knees next to the bed, his fingers searching out her hand to clasp it tightly between his own. "Cara mia, are you all right?"

"She's had a lot of visitors," stated Alya, from behind him, and there was an edge to her tone, so sharp it could've sliced steel. "They left not too long ago. Between that, the pain killers and blood loss, she's been out of it. Why don't you come back tomorrow?"

Adrien practically snarled at her from Marinette's bedside. It was enough to make her flinch.

"Alya," Nathaniel started in a subdued voice. "Why don't we go to the cafeteria for a bit, and give them a moment alone."

"If you think for a second I'm leaving her alone with him-"

"Alya," Marinette's cracked and weak voice drew the attention of everyone in the room. "It's ok."

Alya looked between her and Adrien for a long moment, "Girl, are you sure?"

Marinette managed a nod.

Alya released an undignified noise before begrudgingly turning to the door. She snatched Nathaniel's arm on her way out, practically dragging the man out of the hospital room with her.

Quiet fell over the remaining occupants, and Adrien turned to find Marinette staring at him with exhausted eyes. He felt everything in him curl and writhe in agony, and for a minute all he could do was look at her.

"What... what happened, Marinette?"

"Two men attacked me in the parking garage," she began in a quiet tone. "I was stabbed twice. The doctor says I'm lucky the first one didn't pierce my lung, and the second missed anything vital."

Adrien cast his eyes down to their entwined hands, and refused to speak. He hoped she couldn't hear the way his teeth were grinding from barely contained anger.

"Alya found the files Nino has on Gabriel Agreste." Marinette pulled her hand from his, and dug her fingers into the sheet.

"You," she started, her voice growing harder, "could have told me."

Adrien flinched, feeling his shame churn like a festering pit of acid. "But I-"

"You should have told me," she said again, with more conviction.

The sting of her wrath made him fall silent.

"I was stabbed twice, Adrien. They were going to kill me!" She rasped out and had to clutch her chest where the bulge of bandages against her ribs was poorly concealed by the hospital gown. "Why were they after me?"

"It's my fault." He whispered, stumbling back to his feet, his hands shaking so hard he had to clench them until his knuckles turned white. "It's because of me. You were attacked for the same reason I was shot."

Marinette cocked her head as much as she could against the pillow. "Excuse me?"

"I'm being punished for not playing by his rules. Because I refused to work for Hawk Moth."

"You said you were shot because you were in his territory!" Marinette fumed. "That it was because you were here!"

"And it was!" Adrien fired back. "If I hadn't been here, I would not have been shot!"

"But you left out the part where you tell me he's your FATHER!" Marinette screamed. "I had to hear it from Alya, Chat, when I should have heard it from you!"

"I..." Adrien faltered, flinching visibly in the face of her rage. "I...didn't think it was relevant."

"Liar." Marinette hissed, low and intense. "That's a damn lie, and you know it."

"I didn't lie!" Adrien protested, slashing his hand through the air as if to forcibly dispel the notion. "I just...didn't mention it."

"Lying by omission is still lying." Marinette's jaw clenched, angry tears glittering at the edges of her eyes. "My god, will you ever stop lying to me?"

"I'm trying to protect you!" His plea came out like an agonized howl.

"How?!" She barked, "how is withholding that you're the son of a mob boss protecting me?"

"It wasn't supposed to come to this!" Adrien clawed desperately at his blonde hair, turning his back on her because he couldn't fight back his own tears. "If he thought for a second you knew these things... if he thought I was telling you secrets... information you could leak to Interpol... if he thought you knew his identity. He'd kill you," he snapped his fingers for emphasis, "just like that."

"And you're risking my life, and yours, for what? Some petty theft? Because you want something neat from my museum? Because you want to flaunt your skills to spite your Father?"

"No!" He took a fistful of his roots and yanked hard enough to dislodge several strands of blonde hair, "I'm not robbing the museum, Marinette. I officially called off the heist over a week ago."

"What?" She sounded incredulous, and rightly so, "Then what have you been doing these past weeks?"

Adrien took a sharp inhale and stared at the hairs twisted around his fingers. "When I stopped focusing on what I wanted, I started to notice how much I fucked everything up. I spent so much time antagonizing my father these past few months, I didn't realize how close he'd gotten to you, until I feared for your safety." His hands began shaking again, and he balled them into fists. "For the past week at the museum, I've spent it mining my father's men for information. I wanted to know why they were in the museum, and I thought they were preparing to frame me for another heist. If the police and Interpol were doing dick-all about them, I thought maybe I could do something."

"And you didn't tell me." She spat out bitterly.

"I thought I had good reasons!" He defended, but his voice cracked from the raw emotion stinging his throat. "You're an intelligent woman, Marinette, if I told you I wasn't robbing your museum anymore, you'd ask why I was spending so much time skulking around it. You're not stupid, nor are you vain enough to accept that I just wanted to see you. If I told you about Hawk Moth's men you'd want to know why they were there, what they were after, why he seems to have this personal vendetta against me."

"If you found out Hawk Moth was targeting your museum because of me, you'd cut me out of your life faster than I could blink! And don't say that you wouldn't; only an idiot would continue to associate with the son of a mob boss. Especially one that considers shooting his only son as an acceptable punishment." Adrien exhaled through his nose. "I thought... if I could find out what my Father was up to... that if I stayed close... that nothing could happen to you."

"If it was a territory dispute, you could have left." Marinette whispered bitterly.

"I should have." He whispered back. "I should never have stayed and let it come to this."

"I thought you've been working for Gabriel for the past decade. Why is this a problem now?"

Adrien turned back to face her, his eyes still wet but he blinked the tears back. He saw that Marinette was crying too, tears rolling down her cheeks, even whilst her body sagged against the pillows in exhaustion. "I worked for my father's company, not for his crime syndicate. We both use Gabriel fashions as a front, income, cover; it lets us move around, and move things around without drawing suspicion."

"But I never did criminal work for him. The kinds of crimes my Father's group commits... I never wanted anything to do with that." He took a shuddering breath and continued. "My father has essentially been humoring me, and I've been nothing more than an insubordinate pawn in his sick chess game. This illusion of freedom, my rebellion? He's been biding his time until I got bored; leaving me to my own devices as long as I stay out of Paris, and don't make any trouble for him."

"So what now?” She asked. “Are you going on the run again? Leave the country while I wait around until your father sends out another assassin to off me?"

"No," Adrien breathed. "I'm going to grow up, and give him what he wants."

Marinette sniffed hard, "What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means I'm not going to let him hurt you again. I talked to my Father and he doesn't think you know anything. He sent those goons after you because he wanted to hurt me, to discipline me for my obstinance. As long as I do what he wants, you'll be safe. Put simply, after what I've done to him, he wants me out of the game; either working for him, or in prison." Adrien cast his eyes to the floor and kicked at the tile, "What happened to the men who attacked you?"

"Nino and Agent Haprele, caught up with them at a different hospital." She sounded tired again; the burst of energy from before was gone. "I... injured one of them pretty badly, and they caught him fresh out of surgery. Though I heard the other one got away."

"It's about time they did something competent," he spat. "I'll make sure they catch the other one," he added venomously under his breath.

"If you know so much about your father, why don't you work with Interpol to help bring him down?"

Adrien snorted turning his back to her, "They would sooner put me in prison than enlist me to help catch my Father."

Marinette fell into silence behind him, and for a minute neither of them spoke.

Adrien's chest felt like it was being compressed by a car; his throat was tight, and his lungs ached with every shuddering breath. "Does it ever hurt when you feel me?"

He heard the creak of her shifting on the bed. "What? No, I -uh... no. It doesn't hurt at all."

"Not even when I was shot?"

"You were too far away then," her voice dropped to an exhausted whisper. "I couldn't feel you at all until I went looking for you. ...Why?"

Adrien turned to look at her, his hand going to his chest to clutch the fabric over his heart. "I felt you Marinette; last night, I could feel you were in trouble. I was miles away on a rooftop, and it felt like someone ran a lance straight through my heart." Tears started again, stinging his eyes and spilling down his cheeks; try as he might, he couldn't blink them back. "I-I thought I lost you."

Marinette's eyes slid closed, and he saw that she was sniffling. Her cheeks were still wet, and her eyes were rimmed with red; she'd never stopped crying. A weak hand raised off the bed just enough to pat the blankets next to her. "C'mere kitty."

"But I..." he started. His eyes darting between her and the floor then back to her. He had no right to go to her, to touch her, or ask her forgiveness.

"Please?"

But he could not deny her.

Adrien was at her side again, kneeling next to the bed. He placed his cheek on the railing and hesitantly brushed the back of her hand. His heart squeezed painfully when her fingers wrapped around his.

"I was so scared, Chat."

He brought his other hand up to thread his fingers through her black hair. "I'm sorry, chérie. I'm so so sorry."

Her grip tightened on his hand for a moment, "please hold me."

Adrien started at her request, and began babbling as words tumbled off his tongue in a mess, "but... the stab wounds, I- I can't -the nurses, I'll hurt you."

"There's no one with hands more careful than yours." She murmured out as if the effort to continue speaking was becoming too much. "I'm so tired and scared... and you make me feel safe."

Adrien's mind raced for a whole minute, and his knees stayed rooted to the floor. He wrestled with himself, fighting demons. He should leave, he should go because he'd already hurt her so much and they both knew she was better off without him in her life.

But she owned him. She had more power over him than he'd ever admit to anyone, and he would walk barefoot through hell for her.

Crawling onto the bed beside her was no easy task. He was careful not to jostle her as he settled onto the mattress and curled around her, his arm serving to pillow her head. When he stopped moving he felt her body relax in his embrace and his heart thumped painfully in his already aching chest.

"Thank you," she whispered, and her hand dug into his shirt.

Adrien nuzzled her. All the emotion and affections he'd worked so hard to keep in check came bubbling up and he couldn't stop himself from placing one kiss after another against the top of her head. He worked his way down and breathed his next words against the edge of her ear, "Tē amo."

He felt, just as much as he heard her sharp intake of breath, and her grip tightened on his clothes.

For nearly ten minutes, neither of them said a word, and he thought she fell asleep until Marinette spoke once more. "If you work for your father... will I ever see you again?" He barely heard her murmur.

Adrien swallowed. His eyes clenching shut, as his mouth struggled to spit out his question. "...do you want to see me again?"

"...I don't know."

It was a solid iron punch to the gut. "I can accept that." He whispered back, even as fresh tears crawled down his nose.

"Are you going to hurt people, Chat?"

He couldn't answer her, he just couldn't. The last thing he wanted was for the weight of his decision to be a burden on her conscience.

"I'm so scared, Chat." She was sniffling again.

Adrien buried his face in her hair and whispered back, "So am I."

An hour later, Alya and Nathaniel returned. Adrien spoke with them in harsh whispers while Marinette slept. He tried shifting but his attempt to sit up was met with opposition. Even in her sleep, she clung to him refusing to let go. Which led him to the decision to stay awhile longer.

Adrien assured Nath that he would arrange his own ride from the hospital.

"I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to talk to her," said Adrien in a low register.

Nath released a half-hearted chuckle, and shrugged. "We all know who she really wanted to see. But I appreciate you informing me about the incident. Even had I known you were gonna hog all the time with her, I would have come regardless, just to be certain she was alright."

Not for the first time he thanked Nath for his patience, and compassion. Nath looked uncomfortable under the sincerity, but smiled none the less. "Yeah, well... you're my friend and stuff," he muttered.

Friend. Adrien wondered if he deserved Nathaniel's friendship, -especially considering he used him as cover to visit the hospital without arousing suspicion- but still felt a spark of excitement at the term.

Nathaniel promised to come back to see Marinette later when she was awake, and it was after he departed that Alya whipped around and glowered at the cat burglar.

"Either he's excellent at playing dumb or he doesn't know you're Chat Noir!" She hissed. "I spent nearly two hours talking to him in the cafeteria, and no matter how tactlessly I alluded to your... private profession it went right over his head."

Adrien only provided her with a noncommittal smile. Sometimes Nath said things that made him wonder as well, but he'd never confirmed it.

Alya wrinkled her nose. "I take it you talked things out with Marinette?"

Adrien hunkered back down protectively, and nuzzled the top of her head. "No one is going to hurt her again, and I'm seeing to it that the man who got away will pay for what he's done to her."

"Good," she snipped, her hand moved to fiddle with her wildly curly hair. "Don't make me regret keeping quiet about you. She loves you, Adrien. Crazy, in love with you, like I've never seen before."

"I never meant for her to get hurt," he defended.

"But she did!" Snarled Alya.

"I know..." he closed his eyes and pressed his cheek to Marinette's hair.

"So what's the plan to keep her safe?"

Adrien snapped his gaze back to Alya who was now tapping her foot anxiously in the middle of the room. Her hand was no longer worrying her hair, and instead she was grasping her cell phone, thumbs furiously typing away; but Adrien doubted she was actually writing anything coherent since she wasn't even looking at the phone. He deduced that it was probably a form of stress relief for her.

"My father has agreed to leave her alone so long as I work under him."

"For his mob?" Ayla's brow shot up and she frowned.

Adrien sighed and answered with a resigned, "Yes."

"I don't like this." She growled, pounding the backspace key repeatedly on her cell. "Is Marinette okay with this?"

"I don't think so. But I don't have a lot of choices."

"You're probably right." Alya heaved a sigh and sank down in a guest chair near the wall where she began typing away again, but this time for real. "I'll be here all day, so you don't have to worry about leaving her alone."

He watched Alya for a moment longer, before relaxing back against the bed once more. He turned his attention to Marinette and the hint of tranquility on her features amid the clouds of exhaustion and pain. "I think I'll stay for just awhile longer..."

0000

Adrien was already gone when Marinette woke up that evening. She couldn't deny the hurt and disappointment caused by his absence. Even with Alya sitting across the room -diligently keeping her company- that ache of loneliness persisted, and she would have given anything to feel his presence again.

A short conversation with Alya revealed that he left before noon, asking to be informed if anything came up. He hadn't promised to come back and see her, but Alya's recap of his departure left her with the impression that if she only called, he would come to her in an instant.

It took Marinette longer than she would have liked to convince Alya to smuggle her a soda for her from the cafeteria. But when her best friend finally left the room, she fumbled for her cell on the bedside table. The sharp, shallow intakes of breath indicative of the pain she was in just trying to sit up enough to reach her phone. Her throat constricted, and hot tears were already starting to sting her eyes as she tapped in a number she knew she would regret later.

Her arm quivered holding the cell to her ear, and the call only rang twice before going through. A weary sounding man greeted her with a soft but impatient, "hello?"

"Nino," she croaked, her throat closing up from choking back a sob more than because she was thirsty. "I'm ready to play by your rules now." 

Chapter Text

The scent of cigarette smoke filled Chat's nostrils.

Two men stood in the alley behind the dry cleaners, smoking. It was the same fake dry cleaning company that Chat had infiltrated once before, to collect what he considered rightfully his.

Chat resisted the urge to cough when he inhaled another breath of second hand smoke. There was no light below to illuminate the dank alley, and it was only by watching the glow from each man's cigarette that he was able to keep tabs on them.

Neither man had noticed him, perched on the edge of the roof like a gargoyle, waiting for them.

Right on time one man received a text and put out his cigarette early, when he stepped back inside the building, his buddy opted to stay outside and finish his cigarette.

Perfect.

It was what Chat had been waiting for.

He let his body ease down the wall of the building like a thick liquid. Dropping down to melt among all the other shadows. His boots connected with the cobblestone with a faint scrape, barely audible but different enough from the muffled traffic outside the alley to cause the smoking man to turn and stare towards the shadows where Chat crouched.

Chat stilled, not even daring to breathe in case the smoke caused him to choke. He waited several long moments until the man grew bored, took another drag from the cigarette and turned away again.

Minutes passed, punctuated only by the sounds of the city, the occasional passing car. The man took one last drag from his cigarette before the orange glow extinguished against the side of the brick building.

The next second Chat was surging forward, his clawed gloves taking two fistfuls of the man's clothing and smashing him into the same brick siding.

He knew he'd knocked the wind out of the man when nothing but a choked wheeze escaped.

Chat drew his fist back and threw a punch that cracked across the man's face and sent him sprawling over the ground.

"You thought I wouldn't catch up with you?" he asked, shaking the pain from his fist.

The man coughed, finally taking in breaths again, clearly dazed from the sudden assault.

Chat took several steps towards him, and when the man fumbled for his cell phone his boot came down on the man's wrist before knocking the device out of reach among the garbage.

"Hawk Moth won't protect you," Chat Noir snarled, "You're expendable."

"Son of a bitch!" the man swore, curling in on himself and cradling the arm Chat had crushed. "What do you want?"

"To make you suffer, and beg me for mercy."

"Va te faire enculer," he spat, then drew a knife from his pocket.

Chat wrenched the knife from his hand, twisting his wrist until it popped sickly in his grip causing the man to yelp in agony. He held the pocket knife up, looking at the glint of silver in the dark. "The police never found the knife that was used to stab your friend, only the one you pigs left in the curator's stomach. Do you think they will find residue on this?"

The man clutched his wrist and hissed, "Théo said you were a pussy. That you wouldn't have the guts to retaliate. That you've never so much as assaulted anyone."

Chat grabbed the man, who was thicker and heavier than him, and lifted him up and off the ground. "Théo has pushed me too far, and he will pay for that. But first," Chat sent another punch into the man's gut and let him drop back to the ground on his knees, "you hurt someone precious to me, so I'm going to ruin you."

He took a fistful of hair and took a fistful of the man's clothes and dragged him deeper into the alley and away from the door. The man whined in pain until Chat released him to the ground.

"Explain to me why you almost killed her!"

"It was our job."

Chat sent a punch across the man's face again. "Your job was a simple kidnapping! I spoke to Hawk Moth myself, so don't lie to me."

"The job... was to mess her up good, after we kidnapped her. To... to warn you not to mess with the boss. But she fought back... so we skipped a step."

Chat Noir let out an enraged bellow and dragged the man off the ground and sent him stumbling against some steps at the back of another building in the alley. He threw two more punches, one to the man's face, the other to his stomach then rolled the man over and wrenched both hands behind his back.

He knew what it meant to "mess someone up good." Beatings, torture, rape, or even injecting her with drugs until she became addicted. His father's group dabbled in trafficking and prostitution after all.

He extracted a length of thin rope from his belt and began binding the man's hands.

"The boss... ain't gonna like... this," the man wheezed mockingly, clearly amused despite the blood dribbling from his lips.

Chat finished knotting the rope and yanked the man back against the handrail of the steps. "Father already got what he wanted, I'm more than permitted to throw one last tantrum. Like I said you fuck, you're expendable." He yanked the rope harder and tied him to the metal bars of the handrail.

When he was sure the rope was secure he stepped back. "Plagg, ring the police and direct them to my current location. I've left them a souvenir for all their hard work."

A whisper from his earpiece the only reply.

Chat looked down at the man, but in the darkness he was unable to decipher his expression. He knelt down then, pulling something from a pouch on his belt.

"This was stolen to frame me," he explained, holding a ring in front of the man's face even though they could barely see it in the darkness. "I stole it back for sport. But now I think I should return it." Chat Noir pressed the ring into the man's restrained hand, making sure it came in contact with his fingers, lingering on the man's pointer and middle finger before breaking them both.

He pulled away as the man screamed, and stuffed the ring in the man's pocket along with the folded pocket knife from earlier.

Police sirens could be heard in the distance, closing in on their destination.

"You'd better hope your buddies don't cause a scene when the PP comes to collect you, wouldn't it just be poetic if they raided that phony dry cleaners."

"Why don't you just... kill me?" the man snarled, already struggling against his bonds.

"Because I'm not like you." Chat Noir sneered. With that, he left the man stranded in the alley with nothing but the darkness and the sounds of approaching sirens.

0000

Chat would've come running to her if she called. She was almost sure of it. There was a promise in his touch, it ghosted behind every word he'd spoke, and felt branded into her heart when he confessed he loved her.

But she never called him while she was in the hospital. So he never came back.

Too many nights she cried herself to sleep, and too many nights she woke in a cold sweat.

She saw it in her dreams, relived that moment when the knife sank into her body over and over until it felt like there was not an inch of her skin that hadn't been perforated by silver. She endured the pain again and again through her body's memory alone, and even when consciousness chased the hell away the memories still lingered like long fingers clenching her throat, keeping the air from her gasping lungs.

Even in the safety of her apartment—with the doors securely locked and armed with the alarms Nino and Alya had sprung for just to be certain Hawk Moth's men didn't come back to finish the job—she felt vulnerable. Night after night she stared at her cell phone, stared at Adrien's number in her contact list, opened and closed their text conversation. More than once she'd even typed up a message and let her thumb hover above 'send' before breaking down and deleting it all.

It would be so easy to call him. So easy to give in and drown in everything his presence brought her. The safety of his embrace, knowing he could and probably would fight off anything that dared come for her. The peace of mind that he was there while she slept, that he would be there when she inevitably woke from another nightmare. And part of her thought he owed her that much. Because it was his fault this happened, he'd turned her into a target, intentionally or not.

Marinette also knew that if she saw him again that she couldn't keep him at arm's length. Loving him, knowing now that he loved her in return; to see him again would rend her willpower apart as if it were nothing more than a wall made of wet paper.

She didn't want to forgive him. She wasn't ready to forgive him. He didn't even deserve it. As much as she wanted to be with him, she had to admit to herself she was no longer playing with fire when it came to Chat. She was standing within an inferno with Chat, and there was only one possible outcome of staying in that. For both of them.

But the worst was she knew if she let him back in that she wouldn't have the resolve to turn him over to Nino.

0000

"No. No! You can't do this," Alya shouted.

"This is my job! And it's Marinette's choice," Nino's response was tighter, as if he had other things he wanted to say, but were keeping them to himself.

"Bullshit! You've backed her into this."

Marinette curled up tighter on her bed, fingers curling in the hair around her ears, and yet she could still hear Nino and Alya screaming at each other in her living room. It had been her decision to fill Alya in on their plan. Although the journalist would have just as easily figured it out on her own with how often Marinette met with Nino. It was obvious something was up.

It was a surprise to them both that Alya was vehemently against the whole plan, but the worst was that Nino appeared to take it personally. Both women confessed to him that they'd known about Chat Noir's identity for weeks, and Marinette was sure he would have stormed from the apartment had he not had a job to do.

"That man is a criminal, Alya!"

"So is Gabriel Agreste! Ten times as dangerous as Chat Noir in fact! I don't see you or the rest of Interpol busting your asses to arrest him!"

"We don't have a case against Gabriel! Trust me, if I could I'd storm the Agreste estate right now and slap the cuffs on that man myself. But we have nothing, zilch. As filthy as that man is he's squeaky clean on paper."

Alya made a frustrated scream, and there was a clattering from somewhere in the living room. She must have realized that arguing about Gabriel was no use because she returned to the subject of Adrien again. "But she loves him, Nino!"

"And this is her decision to make!"

"Well I think both of you are wrong! You could be using Adrien to put Gabriel behind bars. He could help you. But you're too wrapped up in this single minded obsession to capture the infamous Chat Noir, and then you have Marinette convinced there isn't any other option."

"Gabriel has him scared shitless thinking Marinette's life balances on a knife end. Adrien is in no position to help us even if he wanted to."

"You're wrong."

"And you're welcome to disagree."

"Fuck you."

The sound of the front door crashing shut indicated that Alya had stormed from the apartment in a rage. In the wake of Alya's theatrical exit, footsteps sounded in the hallway, approaching the bedroom where Marinette lay in bed.

She was still curled in a ball when she heard Nino heave a sigh and knock quietly on her door. When she failed to answer he pushed it open.

"Hey Mari," he began tentatively, "I'm... sorry."

She felt cold, absolutely numb inside, and although the tears continued to drip off her nose, her eyes stared at the nothingness beside her.

"I wish you didn't have to hear that." His voice was low and full of sympathy.

"Don't."

"Don't...?"

She sucked in a hard breath. "Don't make Alya the bad guy. I'm not giving you Chat because I think it's the right thing to do."

He sounded frustrated but simply answered, "Okay."

0000

Silver glinted in warped light, sinking into her body, her chest. Faceless men in a darkened garage, and all she could do was scream for help.

Marinette jolted from her sleep, gasping for air and clutching her abdomen. The wispy afterimages of her nightmares dissolving around her, leaving her chilled in the shadowed confines of her bedroom. She was alone, nothing but apartment sounds to comfort her in the dead of night.

She checked her phone out of habit—a comforting action in that it was an action she performed all the time—and confirmed there weren't any new messages.

"It was a dream, just a dream," she whispered, but shuddered at the sound of her quaking voice in the emptiness around her.

A heated chill ghosted up her spine. The subtlest of needle pricks, that if she hadn't trained herself to seek it out, she would not have given it a second thought. It faded momentarily before crawling back, licking the edges of her consciousness.

"Chat..." Marinette whispered his name, knowing he could not hear her. He was so far away that his presence was no more than a tickling on the edge of her Chat-radar.

She got the sense that he was out there, either on a rooftop somewhere or in his Jaguar.

Then it was gone completely. The absence leaving her more alone and empty than she'd felt upon waking up.

Marinette unlocked her phone again. She skipped through the text conversations, finger momentarily pausing when she passed over Adrien's, but ultimately moving on until she reached Alya.

Marinette: 'I know you're upset with me, but I could use a friend right now.'

She tapped out the message and hit send. It was almost four in the morning. Alya would be asleep. She was being ridiculous.

Alya: 'I'm on my way.'

Marinette's hand fell into her lap. That simple response was enough to stun her, and her heart leapt at the thought of company.

She wasn't sure how long she stared at the phone in her lap, occasionally looking at the curtained window where muted sounds of the city still managed to creep in. Even though she was expecting Alya, it still caught her off guard when the lock on the front door clicked, and the hinges creaked with its opening.

"It's just me, girl."

Marinette expelled a breath she didn't even know she'd held. Until now she had held together, keeping powerful walls around herself, the only defense against the onslaught of emotions beneath the surface. But the sight of Alya standing at the threshold to her bedroom, looking bedraggled but concerned, caused Marinette to break down.

Tears started first. Bubbling from deep inside, and crawling down her cheeks. This was followed quickly by a choked back sob, her last desperate attempt not to fold.

Alya was on the bed with her in seconds, hugging Marinette tightly. "No one said you had to go through all this without crying. Neither did they say you had to shoulder it alone."

"But—but you h-hate what I'm doing," she choked into Alya's patient shoulder.

"Yeah," she said. "I do, but it doesn't mean I don't still love you all the same."

"I sorry. I'm so sorry, Alya."

"Shhhhh," Alya's arms crushed Marinette even harder. She held her best friend, rocking gently, and stroking her long black hair. Two months had passed since she was attacked, and this wasn't the first time she called Alya since coming home from the hospital.

"I'm going back to work this week. Tikki has me on a restricted work schedule."

"You sure about this?" Alya placed her chin on the top of Marinette's head.

Marinette didn't answer. Was she? In some ways, no, but in others, yes. She couldn't stand being cooped up inside her apartment anymore, the isolation an invitation to dwell on things out of her control. The place was robbed of color, bleached by her guilt, and weathered by loneliness. Haunted now by memories and the fear that followed her home.

Ultimately she had to go back in order for her sting with Nino to work. The longer she delayed the harder it was going to get, and the more suspicious Chat would become.

The ensuing silence weighed heavily. There was nothing that could be said that wouldn't result in an argument.

An escaped sniffle betrayed strength.

As Alya's embrace held even tighter, Marinette realized that she wasn't the only one who needed someone.

0000

One week later

"Juleka, just tell Lila she can have the day off."

Juleka tilted her head to stare around the bangs usually obscuring her field of vision. "She isn't going to like that. She'll think it's insincere."

Marinette gave her assistant a look that conveyed how absolutely done she was. "I am being sincere. I don't want her coming four hours late just to compensate by working all night. Not tonight. If she wants the hours so damn bad, tell her to show up on time, or work the weekend."

"The director says you shouldn't be staying late either." Juleka adopted a glare of suspicion.

"I'll be fine."

"Marinette," although Juleka's tone lacked any sort of liveliness there remained an icy sternness.

She managed to push past Juleka and out onto the main floor of the museum. "Tikki has given me permission to work late, just for tonight."

Out on the museum floor nothing seemed amiss, not to the untrained eye. People still roamed about as usual, patrons viewing the different exhibits, the usual couples on dates and tourists. Albeit it felt slightly busier than usual.

"I saw Max with some agents yesterday and today."

Marinette paused in her step.

Juleka continued but in a hushed voice. "They were adjusting the alarms on the gem exhibit in the east wing."

When Marinette narrowed her eyes in question, her assistant remained stoic, not even flinching.

"No one ever notices me."

It was silly to underestimate Juleka. For what little she spoke, she more than made up for in observations.

"I'm working with agents Lahiffe and Haprele tonight," she explained. "You're excused to leave at eight." Marinette started in the direction of the offices, walking a bit too quickly, but she ignored the protesting pain in her abdomen.

00

Don't come. Her fingers trembled just hitting the keys on her cell phone. And although she tapped out an invitation, asking him to meet her at the museum after closing, her mind continued to scream, Don't come, don't come, please Chat don't come.

Her heart sank upon pressing send. "This is how I save you," she whispered to her empty office. "But I'm going to hate myself for it..." When she leaned back in her swivel chair she placed a hand over her stomach and bit the inside of her cheek.

Should she tell him? She hadn't told anyone, hadn't said a word about it since she left the hospital.

Marinette buried her face in her palm, and the hand on her stomach made a fist in her blouse.

0000

He felt his heart galloping across the rooftops alongside his feet.

She wants to see me again.

Every breath, with every step, and every leap from building to building sent his blood thrumming, and he could've sworn it felt like flying.

Chat's hand caught on a chimney and he twirled happily around it, taking in a breath of air and expelling it in a sigh that might've been a little too whimsical, and touch wistful.

"Don't ruin this for me," he dismissed the string of warnings from his ear piece, temporarily switching off the device and silencing Plagg's incessant nattering. "I promise I'll be careful."

He scaled up the side of the Belleville museum, and picked his was across the roof, coming to a pause above one of the skylights. When he peered into the building interior, familiar security lights greeted him with their dim glow, offering up delectable shadows to sulk about within. Nothing appeared amiss, and he noted the security guard making his rounds right on time.

Chat entered the museum his usual method. Taking to scaling the ceiling architecture with practiced ease, picking his way across various ledges to perch upon an beam near the center of the museum. He sprawled over the beam like a large black feline. Unable to keep still in spite of himself, he began tracing patterns with his claws over the polished wood surface.

It was everything he had not to hum while he waited for Marinette to come find him.

Which wasn't long at all.

It practically stole the breath from his lungs, the moment he heard the familiar click of her heels against the tile.

It was her. He knew from the weight of her steps and the pattern of her footfalls. He loved that sound...

He loved her.

A shiver of anticipation worked its way down his spine.

How he missed her. It killed him to stay away, but he respected her choice. Even when it felt like she'd been in distress, and the urge to go find her near suffocating, he'd done nothing more than patrol the surrounding neighborhoods to make sure his Father's men were not afoot.

Chat almost slipped off the beam in a puddle of happiness, when she walked onto the main floor and into his line of sight. His claws dug into the wood, and his muscles tensed to steady himself.

Marinette didn't glance up at him. Instead she kept a neutral expression and continued on as if she were merely busy, working late and on a mission. Albeit heading in his general direction.

He watched her pass under him, not a flinch or a wayward look. He noted that her posture was severe and her shoulders rivaled the tension of a drawn bow.

Concern rippled through him and gripped his heart.

Was she afraid of him?

Chat followed her through the museum and into a wing exhibiting a collection of precious stones and jewelry. It was a wing they'd been in together once before. Back when they first met during the robbery.

It brought back a wellspring of fond memories, and Chat noted that the wing appeared to be under renovation. Several of the displays were empty, the lights within shut off. Other display cases were under construction.

The one Marinette stopped next to was intact, the interior of the case illuminated, but the contents nothing more than old ornate dagger, with a gold trimmed sheath. Gorgeous, but a little gaudy. Would fetch a pretty penny from the right collector, but nothing incredibly remarkable.

Chat scolded himself for getting distracted. He gave the wing one more sweep for good measure, noting all the exits, and the location of the security cameras.

Everything seemed alright, although he was tempted to turn his earpiece back on to check if Plagg noticed anything he did not.

Paranoid fool.

"Chat?" Marinette called for him quietly.

That was all it took. Chat felt himself go boneless and ooze from the ceiling, down a marble pillar. He reigned himself back before he could drift from the shadows and take her into his arms. That was not permitted, she hadn't given him permission to get close again.

"Yes, Princess?"

She turned and her eyes locked in his direction. "You came..."

"You asked," he stated simply. The distance between them felt like an endless chasm, and he had no idea how to bridge the gap. But there she was, on the other side looking like a goddess, only a few meters away, and yet completely out of reach.

He paused to scratch nervously at the nape of his neck. "Why did you ask?"

She looked just as anxious as he felt, straightening the cuffs of her blazer. His eyes darted over her, flickering to the spots where she'd been stabbed, searching for any signs. But her curator outfit concealed them well, and if she were still suffering from them it didn't show.

"How... how are you?" he squeaked out awkwardly.

She raised her brows at him and almost smiled but it melted behind a mask of sadness. "I'm- I dunno, scared? recovering? ...missing you?"

An absolute mess of emotions took turns taking bites out of his heart.

"I've wanted to call you every day for the past month," she blurted out. "But I... I've been so afraid."

Chat had to silence a whine of agony in the back of his throat. "Mari... I'm so sorry." He unconsciously approached, moving to comfort her, but faltered at the last second and stopped short of touching her.

"And w-what about you?" She seemed to shore up whatever emotions had been wavering beneath the surface, looking up to meet his eyes.

"You don't want to know," he sighed morosely. Which was entirely true. Chat shuddered to think what her opinion would be of him if she knew what his Father made him do these past couple months.

"Agent Lahiffe informed me about my attacker, the one that got away. Someone practically gift wrapped him in bruises and dropped him in the police's lap."

"It was the least I could do."

For a moment she smiled sadly at him then whispered, "thank you."

Chat opened his mouth, but nothing came out. I love you. Just tell her, I love you. I love you, Marinette. He wanted to tell her, wanted so badly, but just like the last time he confessed his love it felt like the most inappropriate time to tell her. He tried again only to press his lips together in a tight line.

Suddenly she threw her arms around him, and Chat about swallowed his heart. Brain function ceased to exist at her touch, the sudden scent of her causing several wires in his brain to begin short circuiting. Chat couldn't have stopped himself if he'd wanted to, wrapping Marientte in a fervent embrace that was surprisingly careful.

"I'd do anything for you," he promised. "Anything at all." He wanted to purr when she hugged him tighter. Her nose tucked against his neck felt like heaven, and her breath on his skin was beautiful torture.

Marinette sounded almost amused when she asked, "Would you walk away from thievery?"

"In a heartbeat."

He doubted she believed him, but even so she pulled back and kissed him.

Chat kissing Marinette while she handcuffs him to a display caseAt first he didn't react, too stunned at the feeling of her lips against his. The kiss was so sweet it hurt, and stoked a longing so fierce within him. It wasn't until she began to pull away that he followed, reigniting the kiss with his own feelings.

Did she know what she did to him? How much power she had over him? The happiness she brought to his life? How she made him want to change...

He kissed her like he had nothing else to lose. Like there wasn't any other dream worth dreaming unless she was in it. She was the anchor that tethered him to the earth, and when she pulled him back a couple steps he willingly followed.

They backed into something solid, and Chat broke the kiss to try and speak again. "Marinette, I... I lov-"

Something flashed in her eyes, and Marientte cut him off. This time when she kissed him it was desperate. There was something different, something raw and vulnerable, and consuming. She coaxed him closer and he pressed her back, hands going to either side to steady himself.

Marinette made him forget everything, and lose himself in the moment. He'd missed her for so very long and now that she was in his arms again he couldn't let her go. Vowing to weather an uncertain tenuous future just to spend another day with her. To lay down his life protecting her...

The abrupt snapping of interlocking metal brought reality crashing down upon him.

Chat wrenched his hand way from the display case he'd held her against, only to be stopped short. Display case! Alarms should have gone off. Stuck, I'm stuck! Panicked his eyes flew to Marinette's, searching her for answers only to find her stepping away with a grave expression.

Tears crawled down her cheeks as Chat's mind frantically pieced together a realization.

"No..."

She took another step back.

Chat yanked on the handcuffs like a fox in a steel-trap. "Please no!"

She made a choked noise, and curled her hands into fists.

"Don't do this! Marinette, please don't do this!"

Her chin trembled, but her eyes became hard as she met his frightened gaze. "I would rather see you locked away in prison than stand by and let you sell your soul."

"No, no, no! Mari please!" Chat wrenched against the display case hard enough to damage the wood. The metal digging just as savagely into his wrist. "Marinette!"

She turned away and covered her ears, just as members of the Paris Police Prefecture and Interpol stormed into the museum wing.

And then she was gone, disappearing amid a sea of uniformed officers as his face was forced down against the glass of the display case.

They were yelling instructions to him, but he was too numb to comprehend. His arms were wrenched behind his back, and he was released from the cuffs trapping him to the display case only to be restrained with an entirely new pair.

They peeled him from the case and forced him to his feet. Chat didn't struggle, didn't feel anything anymore. The numbness that had started in his limbs fogged up his mind, and ate a gaping empty hole in his chest.

He didn't even look up when Agent Lahiffe stepped in front of him and said, "it's about damn time."

Chapter Text

Roughly Two Years Later

"Have you lost weight again?"

Marinette moved the food around her plate. It was pasta, which meant that the noodles were more fun to manipulate than, say, the sandwich she'd been playing with yesterday. The sandwich had gotten her reprimanded when she disassembled it and left the pieces scattered over a bed of chips. Fortunately, the pasta was a little more discreet.

"Marinette."

She jerked her head up and met her best friend's concerned glare. Judging by Alya's expression, she'd asked a question, and Marinette had been too preoccupied with her noodles to respond. It was probably a yes-or-no question, so she had a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right answer.

"Yes?"

Alya frowned deeply.

Well shit. That wasn't it.

"Yes what?" Alya pressed, ripping a paper napkin between her fingers. "Yes, you lost weight, or yes, you are finally acknowledging that I'm talking to you and you never heard a thing I said?"

Marinette just stared at her with a deer in the headlights look, to which Alya made an undignified noise.

"I'm doing fine," she dropped her eyes back to the plate of food and began stacking pieces of mushrooms together. "What about you? Work things out with Nino yet?"

"Girl, don't you dare change the subject," Alya poked her fork a little too close to Marinette's nose for comfort. "You need to stop blaming yourself for what happened between Nino and I, and for the record, he still texts me about once a week and I'm the one ignoring his desperate ass. What about you? You talking to your Romeo yet?" She raised a superior eyebrow, before taking a bite of bread.

"I have my reasons."

"As I have mine." Alya snipped, and took a sip of tea.

"We finally got the museum west wing renovated for the new exhibit." Marinette tried to change the subject to something lighter. "I'm working with Rose on this one, it'll be her first big project."

"That was the wing that had the Egyptian exhibit, yeah? Was it hard to say goodbye to your baby?"

"Only a little, but it'll be in the capable hands of a museum in Italy for the next year, maybe two. Besides, I'm ready for something new. The previous exhibit... it held too many painful memories."

Alya's understanding look said enough, the changes in the museum were a welcome breath of fresh air, but difficult. "You got the invite to Nathaniel's new art show, yeah? Want to be my date next week?"

The horrendous screech of cutlery against polished plate drew the attention of several neighboring patrons. Marinette about dropped her fork, and had to stop herself from scrunching her nose in disgust. When she spoke, it was in a hushed tone as if the topic were too inappropriate for public.

"You do realize that that showing was sponsored by Chloe Bourgeois, and that she's the subject in most of the paintings, right?"

"No. I. Did. Not." Alya scooted to the edge of her seat, suddenly enthralled by this information. "When did this happen? I thought he couldn't stand her!"

"If you ask Nath, he says it's because she commissioned him, and paid handsomely,"

"Hmm, that's one way to get paid," she snorted. "Those two have such a love-hate thing going on. We should go just for the drama."

"I don't know Alya..."

"Oh yes you do. And don't use Isabelle as an excuse."

"I s'pose I could call Mama and Papa, and it has been awhile since I've seen Nath." Marinette seemed to consider the date, even taking a bite of her neglected pasta. It was cold, but she hardly noticed.

"If your parents can't take her, you know Félix will jump at the opportunity." Alya held up her hand and began ticking off fingers. "See Nath... night off... date with me... support our friends... it'll look good for you as new museum director in Chloe's eyes. I could go on," she hummed knowing very well she'd won already.

"Fiiiiiiiine," Marinette relented. Alya was right, and it had been a very long time since they'd gone out together. It could be fun. "But you're coming over to help me pick out something to wear."

0000

Hidden behind the tinted window of Agent Lahiffe's black sedan they studied the entrance of the Belleville museum. Not much had changed about the exterior in two years, and given the time of day, foot traffic was light.

The day was overcast. Darkened clouds threatened rain, but so far had been nothing more than empty promises.

Fitting, he thought, given his current feelings.

They watched the Belleville's new director step out of a familiar burnt orange city car. She waved goodbye to the driver before starting up the steps of the museum.

Something caused her to halt mid-step and whirl around so sharply she almost lost her balance.

"That's Alya's car," Nino remarked conversationally and nodded to the vehicle that was pulling away from the curb. When he spoke there was a sadness in his voice. Wistful even. "She takes Marinette out to lunch at least once a week."

"Hmm."

Nino nodded towards the woman on the steps who was looking increasingly more distressed. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing at all," he practically hummed to the agent and his mouth pulled into a self-satisfied smirk.

Nino looked between the man sitting next to him and the clearly flustered museum Director. He was perplexed, unsure of what was playing out before his eyes. Alya had talked about this... but he'd never believed it for a second.

0000

Marinette made another circle around Tikki's office and gnawed the cap off her latest pen. Were there more pressing issues to stress about? Most definitely. Or so she tried to convince herself.

She had a mountain of paperwork waiting, for example. She also needed to help their new curator, Rose Lavillant, who was struggling on the information cards for their newest exhibit. She could have asked Juleka, but her assistant had been less than helpful where Rose was concerned. Ever since they hired the new curator, Juleka would freeze up, say even less than she usually did, and hide behind her iPad.

A misstep on her heels sent Marinette stumbling into a filing cabinet and she exploded into a fit of safe-for-work expletives.

The light tinkling of Tikki's giggles brought her out of her self-inflicted swirling vortex of distress. "You've been working yourself into a tizzy since you got back from lunch. Do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

Marinette blinked at her boss several times, at a loss for an explanation. How did she even begin to explain? That she had some weird sixth sense bullshit Chat Noir radar? That she hadn't felt so much as a tickle from said radar for the past two years? Or that on the steps at the front of the Belleville, she'd been overcome with the worst case of chills running up and down her spine, and setting the base of her skull afire.

Because she'd recognized that feeling more intimately than an orgasm.

Which was why she was currently questioning her sanity. Because Adrien Agreste was in prison, and had been since she'd helped Interpol and the PP put him there. There wasn't any way he was here now. None. Her dreams and deepest desires were simply coming to haunt her. This was her guilt surfacing to torment her in new ways.

When news had gotten out that the infamous Chat Noir had been beloved fashion model Adrien Agreste, the press had had a field day. It had been the talk of newspapers, news networks, and the internet. Gabriel Agreste had even held a press conference where he disowned his own son, a feeble attempt to save face for his company.

She'd destroyed Adrien's entire life, both lives, in a single night. Even if he somehow got out of prison, he wouldn't come to see her. Whatever she'd felt outside the museum today... it was wrong.

Marinette straightened up from the filing cabinet and brushed off her skirt. She'd spent far too many nights sobbing herself to sleep over this. She wouldn't let this break her again. And she wasn't foolish enough to delude herself into thinking it was Chat.

She wasn't going to entertain empty hope like that.

"I'm alright. Just chugged a coffee on break and the caffeine is making me crazy."

Her boss raised both brows and regarded her with a disbelieving look. "Mm-hm."

"Excuse me," Juleka's small voice drew the attention of the women in the room. "Director, Senior Director," she addressed Marinette and Tikki respectively. "Agent Lahiffe called to confirm his appointment with Miss Dupain-Cheng, but asked if it could be moved to half past eight."

"Tell him that will be perfect," said Marinette.

"Are you sure?" Tikki asked. "That'll be after closing? Do you need to make arrangements?"

"It's all covered," she assured. "I'll just call Félix and let him know I'll be a little late. He won't mind at all."

"Of course he won't," groused Tikki. "He spends more time playing nanny than he does working."

"Pffft," Marinette snorted, "You say that, but I think you just miss seeing him around the museum. You're the one who approved him to work remotely from his laptop after all."

"So, 8:30? Tonight?" Juleka cut in.

"Yes, I'll be in my office," confirmed Marinette.

Juleka nodded and stepped out of the office, shutting the door behind herself.

"What does Interpol want?" Tikki asked, sounding only mildly curious.

"I don't know. Could be Nino checking up on me again."

"Don't you think he's being strangely official, making an appointment and all?"

Marinette sighed and sank down into the guest chair. "Hell if I know. He's been weird ever since Alya broke off their engagement."

0000

She didn't usually doze off in her office. She must have crashed sometime after seven, and now her body felt stiff, chilled, and there was a mark on her cheek where the material of her blazer cuff had pressed against her skin for too long. Marinette chalked it up to the unusually long day and that she wasn't accustomed to working the long shifts anymore. Overtime was almost a thing of the past.

It took several groggy blinks at her computer screen before she managed to fix on the time. Fifteen past eight. Just enough time to salvage her appearance and walk some life back into her bones before Nino showed up.

Marinette pushed herself up from the desk and started when she knocked something metallic onto the floor. She stared dumbly at the soundless gold bell that rolled under her chair, dragging behind it the fabric of a worn out choker.

Oh yeah, I was playing with it before I nodded off. It was practically a daily ritual to thoughtlessly turn the bell over and over in her hands whenever she was alone.

Marinette bent and scooped it off the floor, depositing it into her blazer pocket.

You were mistaken today. It wasn't...

Opening her office door sent the first tickle of alarm down her neck. It was enough to give her pause, fingers gripping tight onto the handle.

No...

With all the hesitance of a spooked deer, she stepped into the hall. A chill greeted her with icy kisses ticking up each and every vertebrae.

It's absolutely impossible.

She started down the hall slowly at first, deliberate and careful with each step, eventually picking up speed just as her heart broke into a fevered rhythm.

By the time she made it onto the main floor, she was all but running, following a feeling that had tears stinging the edges of her vision.

He's here! He's actually here! There was no mistaking it. Years might've passed, but she never forgot. ...But what the hell was he doing in her museum?

Marinette chased the skittering ant-crawling chill, felt it morph into a burn until it was heaven and hell, ice and fire. She was determined not to let it slip away again, afraid that if it fizzled out she might actually die inside.

The lights were dimmed, per usual past closing, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the ceiling. Not a single shadow escaped her scrutiny, and she'd even fished the old keychain light from her pocket.

She rounded a corner, coming up on the base of a stairwell when the figure of a man caused her to scream and drop the light.

"Marinette! Holy shit, you scared me half to death."

She fumbled for the keylight on the floor, finally snatching it up and shining it in the man's face.

"Nino?" she squeaked. Her heart sank like a rock tossed into a decrepit well. Someone could've dropped a train car on her and it wouldn't have felt nearly as crushing.

"Are you alright?" he asked, sounding concerned. "You looked spooked. Is someone after you?"

Marinette shut off the obnoxious key light and shoved it back in her pocket. The museum's security lights provided more than enough light so long as she wasn't poking around in the shadows.

"Marinette, what happened?"

It was Nino's hand on her shoulder that made her realize he'd come to stand beside her. His mouth was drawn into a tight line, brows knit in concern.

Her trembling lip betrayed the raging disappointment and anger that roiled beneath her surface. She slumped against him, hiding her face in his shoulder before the remains of her composure could deteriorate.

"I thought you were... I felt..." she took a ragged breath, a feeble attempt to calm herself. When she spoke again it was harder, chillier. Picking her words carefully, she said, "I can't explain how, but I thought Ch-Chat was here."

Nino seemed to deflate next to her. "Dude, for the love of God, quit playing this game with her."

A shadow moved in her peripheral.

"I made the appointment tonight to introduce you to my new informant, charge, liability —whatever you want to call him," Nino explained, "He was supposed to be showing me how he used to enter this museum, but now I think he's just full of shit."

The shadow detached itself from the surrounding darkness and hesitantly stepped into the dim light.

There were no endearing cat ears in his coiffed blonde hair, no catsuit, no tool-belt, not even the ridiculous belt-tail that she had begrudgingly become extremely fond of. When she caught his wheatgrass eyes, the pupils weren't slit and the sclera wasn't the toxic chartreuse that had haunted her every night for the past two years.

His usual leather was replaced by an expensive sweater, dark green with the neck folded down, and his pants were ironed black slacks. He looked so normal she almost didn't recognize him.

He looked nervous as hell.

"Adrien," there was no hiding the way her voice cracked, she barely got out his name.

"Hey... Marinette," the way his hand scratched the hairs at the nape of his neck brought a flood of memories rushing to the surface.

It felt like someone slapped her and she forgot to breathe.

"You look... beautiful," he began, "I mean you always have. You never weren't beautiful- I just- you still... uh. God you're still just as pretty." He trailed off in a mumbled whisper, his face turning such a deep crimson that it stained the tops of his ears.

Well there went whatever composure she had left in this situation. Her insides had quite definitely dissolved into a puddle of warmth. Delirious giggling erupted, and she surprised herself by saying, "Yeah... you always did know how to stroke a woman's ego."

"I'm being completely sincere, chér—I mean, Marinette." Shame flickered through his expression for a moment. "It's not flattery."

Her eyes flickered to the floor, then at Nino standing off to the side trying to look busy, and back to Adrien. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm-" Adrien began.

"Oh dude," Nino cut in, looking at his watch dramatically. "Would you look at that, I'm late for a meeting with the director. I'll just go on ahead and you two can catch up." He made a pair of finger guns in the direction of the offices. Nino paused near Adrien's shoulder. "You put a toe out of line and I'm sending you back to prison," he hissed none too quietly in his ear before taking off down the corridor.

Marinette stared after him with a dumbfounded expression. "But I'm the director..."

Adrien smiled warmly, staring at her with a fond expression that was doing a great job at rendering her a quivering mess. "He knows."

Keep it together, keep it together. You aren't the same lovestruck mess you were years ago. Marinette scoffed internally. Oh, who am I even fooling?

"As I was trying to say before," he swallowed. Paused, then said a bit sheepishly, "I work for Interpol now."

She could only blink at him.

"Interpol's getting desperate to catch Hawk Moth. They offered me a bargain, since I've been on such good behavior."

"I take it something new came up in their investigation?"

Adrien's mouth became taut, and his vivid wheatgrass eyes turned harrowed. "I-I'm not allowed to say."

She noted the way he looked pained, like it killed him to tell her that. "Right," she murmured. Of course he wouldn't be able to discuss the details of an investigation. "So you and Nino? You're partners now?"

Adrien cleared his throat, the embarrassment from before bouncing back in style. "No, not quite. I'm his... pet." He gestured down, pulling up his pant-leg a few inches and shaking his ankle to reveal a thick tracking anklet complete with a couple of blinking lights. "Not even I can pick this thing," he remarked with hollow amusement. "Agent Lahiffe is what you'd call my handler now. But as long as I play by Interpol's rules and be a good boy, he agreed to let me come see you again."

There went her heart. Shattering like someone dropped a precious vase on the floor. Not that it wasn't already a broken relic, it had been since the day she handcuffed him and gave him over to the police. No matter how hard she tried to put the pieces back together, there had always been parts missing, like someone had stolen them.

"You actually wanted to see me again? Af-after what I did to you?" The words choked her throat, scraping like glass, and leaving a raw feeling as she tried not to break into tears. You will not cry. You've cried about this for waaay too long. Don't you dare start again now. She had to cup her fingers in front of her mouth to hide the way her chin trembled.

"Mari, there hasn't been a day that's gone by that I haven't wanted to see you again." He reached out his hand like he wanted to take hers, but flinched back.

She could almost see the cat ears curling back on the top of his head, so sorry for almost touching her. This was her Chat, and he was afraid.

He was her Chat. Once upon a time.

"Why?" and it came out more like a sob between curled fingers. "I gave you to the police! Because I didn't want—" unable to finish, she just sobbed into her hands.

Oh so gentle familiar fingers pulled her hands away from her face.

Marinette started as his large hands wrapped around her own. Even after more than two years, his touch still made her skin tingle, still made her feel.

"I know why you did it," he whispered and his voice held a throaty quality. "I was... angry at first," he admitted. "I was scared of being locked up."

He once told me he values his freedom above all else. I took that from him. Marinette couldn't meet his eyes, staring at the way his thumbs massaged the center of her palms instead.

"But," he pressed on, "if you hadn't turned me in, I would have become a monster. I know it. I would have killed for Hawk Moth just to keep you safe."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do. And you knew it too. He had me right where he wanted me." Adrien sighed squeezing her hands. "You saved me, even if I didn't want to accept it at the time."

She finally chanced meeting his eyes, and found them glittering with sincerity and... gratitude?

"Don't cry please." He released her left hand to wipe a stray tear from her cheek. "Tears never looked good on you. You always wore fiery exasperation much better. Especially when it was for me," he teased with a tentative crooked grin.

She couldn't fight the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth.

"Stupid cat," she hiccuped, unable to hide the fierce blush that warmed her cheeks. "You always were a massive flirt."

"Only with you, my lady," he drawled so smoothly it took her back for a moment.

She remembered the first time he called her that, the night he'd given her his bell. A night she never forgot and often played the memories back like watching an old, worn out cassette over and over. She didn't even notice the way Adrien cringed and held up his hands suddenly.

"Fuck, I mean—I'm sorry," he quickly amended, dragging a hand through his blond hair and messing it up. "I didn't mean... It's been years—I shouldn't... you aren't mine anymore."

Marinette snorted and dragged her wrist across her face to mop up the moisture around her eyes. "Says the man who shamelessly flirted with me during a robbery? I wasn't yours back then, I could've been married for all you knew about me, but that didn't stop you."

"I didn't have anything to lose back then," Adrien admitted looking more than a little ashamed.

Her heart made a flip-flop maneuver like a handful of butterflies got released in her chest cavity. "And what do you have to lose now?"

"Everything." Adrien pinned her with a very intense look that sent those butterflies scrambling into her stomach.

She blinked at the terse assertion and it dawned on her that he was laying his heart on the line right then. That what she said next mattered.

There was a lot she wanted to say to him, but couldn't seem to construct the words. Of all the times her tongue had to root itself to the top of her mouth. Did she tell him she never fell out of love with him? How she suffered from sleepless nights dying to feel his touch again? Exactly how desperate was too desperate a confession?

Or should she muzzle her feelings a bit and say something a bit more restrained? Like the way she missed his voice, and the sound of his laugh. Or his eyes, or smile, or playful teasing? Or maybe that she even longed for the few times they simply chilled in her apartment playing video games and watching movies?

That she would have given anything to have all that again... except...

His eyes searched her own as the intensity behind his gaze grew and Marinette realized she needed to do or say something soon.

She slipped a hand into her blazer pocket, fingers curling around cold metal and extracted the object within, holding it up for him to see.

Adrien's sharp inhale was audible, his eyes snapping from her to the gold bell in her hands and back again.

She answered the question in his eyes with a coy smile. "The choker clasp is a little tarnished... from being handled all the time... but do you—do you think you could fasten it for me?"

The look Adrien gave her was a mix of awestruck, strangled, slightly panicked and just bordering aroused.

Marinette held out the bell and he took it like she'd just handed him the Carstairs Diamonds.

Adrien swallowed thickly when she swept her hair to the side and exposed her neck to him. For a long minute, all he did was stare at her like she'd stripped naked for him. Never mind that the way his eyes raked her neck was starting to make her feel naked.

Please touch me, Chaton.

As if he heard her mental plea, Adrien stepped close. He met her gaze momentarily from the corner his eye, a wordless expression passing between them, before he snapped his attention to the task at hand. Shaking hands brushed the skin on her neck, but didn't linger, locking the clasp with the ease she expected from a former cat burglar.

His fingers traced the tired velvet material of the choker to the bell at the front, knocking it with a knuckle as if to confirm the inner ball was still missing.

The silence that followed answered his unspoken inquiry.

I still wear your bell, Chat. I don't think it gets any clearer than that.

"Does this mean you're willing to give me a second chance?"

Her heart gave a stutter before a flash of reservations raised their warning flags.

"That depends, Adrien. What's different from the last time? Aside from you playing on the right side of the law now?"

They were pertinent questions, but her insides still cringed when she watched the child-like hope in Adrien's eyes shrivel in on itself.

"I didn't come here with any expectations, but I also couldn't leave my naive hope behind," he began morosely. "Last time I couldn't offer you anything concrete. I wanted to—God I wanted to, but the circumstances..."

He wanted something concrete? The fluttering in her stomach resurfaced.

He sucked in a breath as if considering his next words. "I want to try again, Marinette; not some temporary fling, but something real. I want a fam—a home. You... being with you felt like home."

Suddenly, that fluttering gained several more friends and her heart tripped over itself once again.

Just take it. It's all yours anyway. As if it ever belonged in her own chest to begin with; the man carried it in the palm of his hands and he didn't even know it.

"For now, interpol is keeping my involvement with them under wraps. It isn't public knowledge that I'm out of prison, and they are keeping it that way for as long as possible. Lahiffe doesn't let me strut around in public unless I'm wearing a disguise." Adrien huffed his resigned acceptance of the circumstances. "Even with all these covert operations, it's inevitable that Father will find out eventually. Especially if he has moles within the police force, as I suspect he does."

This information sent a chill down Marinette's back, and not the good kind.

"But," Adrien continued, "he won't be able to use my status as a criminal against me. And I'll have Nino as an ally rather than a nemesis. I won't be playing an active role in catching Hawk Moth, for now I'm merely an informant. They have me sitting in on meetings and giving them insight via a thief's perspective."

"When your father does find out about you, what's to stop him from coming after me again?"

Adrien opened his mouth to speak, then clapped it shut again and set his jaw.

I see. Every hopeful little butterfly that had dared taken flight inside her now writhed at the bottom of her stomach.

"Nothing," he conceded. "All I can do is assure you that Agent Lahiffe and I will do everything in our power to keep you safe—to keep you off Hawk Moth's radar. I've asked that Lahiffe let me be as transparent with you as possible."

He must've seen the reservation in her expression because he placed a hand to her cheek and soothed a worry line with his thumb.

"As inappropriate as it is to say this: I love you, Marinette. But if keeping you safe means I stay the hell out of your life... I can accept that."

God damn him. Just hearing those words turned her bones to jelly. It was a miracle she managed to stay upright. Why did this have to be so difficult?

"Chat," she began, biting back her own feelings. "I can't—It's not that I don't—I still—I want... it's just...I can't give you an answer right now."

Like the visual representation of a CD skipping, Adrien's expression momentarily flickered through several emotions before settling on acceptance. "I understand." He gave her a comforting smile and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear before withdrawing his hand.

No. Come back dammit! You don't understand. That simple gesture left her wanting more.

Marinette wanted to snatch his hand back, to hold it against her face and just melt into his touch. She wanted so desperately to step into his arms and feel his embrace, to feel those strong arms hold her again. Instead, she awkwardly grasped the bell at her neck, almost as if she could draw strength from it.

"I just need a little while to think about all this."

"Take as long as you need," he assured softly.

The silence that settled between them was the awkward kind. A million things hanging in the air, but neither of them possessing the words.

"I..." Adrien began, "I should go find Agent Lahiffe, before he thinks I'm up to no good."

He turned in the direction of the offices but Marinette couldn't make her legs move to follow him.

"Yeah."

Adrien got about five paces ahead of her before he noticed she wasn't following.

"You gonna make me walk back alone, Chérie?" The playful smile he shot her didn't quite reach his eyes. "I might get lost."

Marinette grinned involuntarily, suddenly lurching forward to catch up with him. "You're full of shit."

0000

"Alya!" Marinette threw open the front door of Alya's apartment and cringed when it crashed into the wall. "I want to diiiiieeeeeee."

"If this isn't an emergency then I'll definitely make it happen." A very bedraggled looking Alya stumbled from the bedroom squinting her eyes at Marinette.

"Where are your glasses?"

"I knocked them on the floor when you screamed my name," she groused. "Help me find them and then you can fill me in on the crisis that couldn't wait until morning."

"Chat's back."

Alya blinked at her. "Shit. Really?"

Marinette nodded vigorously walking passed Alya and into the bedroom.

"How'd he get out?" Alya asked, watching Marinette scour the floor around the night stand for the missing spectacles. "Don't tell me he's stealing again."

"No, he's not. Ah-ha!" Marinette sat up, smashing her head on the corner of the nightstand. She let loose a curse and held out the recovered glasses. "He's working for Interpol now."

"You're shitting me!" Alya snatched her glasses, shoving them on. She sounded more angry than surprised.

"I'm serious! He came by the museum with Nino tonight. And get this, Nino's his handler." She flopped backwards onto Alya's bed.

"That's fucking shit!"

"Why?"

"Because I told Nino years ago that he should work with Adrien, that Interpol should give him a deal, and he was adamant that it wouldn't work. Refused to even consider the idea. Kept telling me he was too untrustworthy, too much of a liability." She made air quotations on the last word.

"Maybe something changed?"

"Or maybe this is a stunt he's pulling to get back in my good graces," muttered Alya. "So why exactly are you at my place instead Adrien's? Or wherever it is he's staying."

Marinette fell silent, and buried her face in Alya's pillows.

"This is about Isabelle isn't it? I take it she's with Félix right now?"

She nodded into the pillows and said somewhat muffled, "I told him to take her for the night."

Alya released a hard breath and Marinette felt the mattress depress as she sank down on the bed next to her.

"He told me he loves me."

"Oh, girl."

"That he wants something concrete with me, something real. He wants a second chance. He told me I feel like home, Alya!" Marinette threw her arms out and screamed her frustrations into the pillow.

"And you told him no because..?"

"Because Hawk Moth is still at large, and that's the whole reason Nino pulled him out of prison. They intend to take him down. Which puts a target on me, and by extension, Isa."

"And an even bigger target if he's caught associating with you." Alya added with morose understanding.

"Exactly! I fucking get everything I've ever wanted tonight; and I had to say no!"

With that, Marinette's exasperation gave way to broken sobbing.

One second she was crying into pillows and the next her face was buried against Alya's chest. Her best friend pulled her into a tight embrace, gentle hands rubbing comforting circles into her back.

"I want hiiim," Marinette sobbed.

"I know."

"This isn't fair..."

Alya held her tighter and buried her face in Marinette's dark hair. "I know, girl. Nino had no business putting you in this position. If his game was to catch Hawk Moth, then he should've waited until after they caught him."

Marinette curled against her, sobs giving way to broken hiccups. "B-but who knows when—hic—that'll happen. It could be years, Alya. Or never!"

"Or it could be next week. We don't know; which is why it's unfair that it happened like this."

Angry music interrupted their shared lamenting. Pink's U + Ur Hand sounding from Alya's cell phone that was trying to vibrate its way off the nightstand.

"Speaking of the Devil. That man is getting an earful from me." Alya pushed Marinette up just enough to wiggle towards the cell. She snatched it off the stand and hit speaker phone. "You've got some explaining to do, Nino."

"I have some explaining? His voice demanded from the speaker. "What did Marinette do to the man? I practically gift wrapped him for her and now he's shut himself in my bathroom and I swear he's crying."

"I'm not fucking crying, Lahiffe," a voice that sounded unmistakably like Adrien shouted in the background. "There was an eyelash in my eye!"

"I don't believe him," Nino said lowly so Adrien couldn't hear.

"Why is Adrien at your place?" Alya asked, squinting at her phone as if he could see her facial expression.

"Hnnngg," Nino huffed, "the place Interpol got him won't have water or power until tomorrow, and Pretty Boy insisted on having a shower. Also, it's cold, and I felt bad."

"Why is Interpol suddenly using Adrien? Why now? And did you even think about Marinette and how she'd feel before bringing him to the museum?"

"Woah, Babe." Nino became defensive.

"I'm not your Babe, boy," Alya growled. "Please tell me you actually have some sort of plan, and didn't dangle cat-boy in front of Marinette just to torture her. Because you know Hawk Moth is still at large, and that puts a reticle on Marinette and Isabelle."

Marinette's heart lodged itself in her throat and she made a choked noise before jabbing Alya with an elbow.

"Shhhhhhhhh!" His frantic shushing caused the speaker to erupt with static. "He doesn't know."

"What don't I know?"

"Mind your own business. This is a private conversation." Nino made a frustrated noise and it sounded like his glasses clicked against his cell phone. "I thought she would be happy to see him again."

"Don't feed me that bullshit. You know damn well she's happy, but you put her in the worst position."

"I—fuck. Okay, I'm sorry. We're working on it. If it makes you feel any better we have an officer from the PP assigned to watch Marinette's neighborhood, and Adrien is anonymously funding the museum's parking garage security. They'll be able to afford new cameras, better lighting, and both night and day guards."

"Where is Adrien getting that kind of money? Didn't Gabriel disown him?" Alya asked.

"Apparently all the money Adrien had before he went to prison was from legitimate means. We tracked all his accounts, his fortune was earned honestly. The damned man never sold a single thing he stole, and we were only able to recover the objects from him that we could prove he stole." Nino made a noise caught somewhere between frustrated and impressed. "So yeah, the dude's loaded."

Marinette thought back to all the times Chat had given her gifts—all the times he'd wanted to spend money on her—that she hadn't accepted for fear it had been funded with stolen cash.

She buried her face in Alya's lap and the redhead started massaging the back of her head.

"You understand why she can't be with Adrien right?" Alya steered things back to the original topic.

Nino heaved a sigh into the phone. "I thought we could make it work. But you're right, it puts Marinette in danger, and that's not fair to her. Is she there with you now?"

"Yeah." Alya tipped the phone in Marinette's direction even though she could hear it just fine anyway.

"I'm sorry Mari, I wasn't thinking. I shouldn't have done that to you. I guess I just thought I was doing something good."

Marinette thought about Adrien and if he had actually been crying in Nino's bathroom. She thought about Isabelle who was with Félix, and she thought what the future might bring.

It was ultimately her own decision. Could she risk it? Should she risk it?

I want to try again Marinette; not some temporary fling, but something real. I want a fam—a home. You... being with you felt like home.

She could've sworn he almost said he wanted a family then. He wanted a family with her.

Marinette wanted to give him that family.

Should she really do this...?

"Nino," Marinette began, her voice still hoarse from crying.

"Yeah?"

"Can you get me a one year carry license and teach me to fire a handgun?" Marinette felt Alya tense beneath her.

The sound of a muffled choke spilled over the phone and someone dropped a glass object in the background.

"Dammit, Adrien, you'd better replace that glass." Nino yelled away from the phone. A moment later he cleared his throat and addressed the girls again. "Yeah, I—uh I think I can try to arrange that."

"In the meantime, I'd like someone to refresh my self defense and teach me hand-to-hand."

"I'll do it," volunteered a somewhat strained and throaty sounding voice in the background, a little too eagerly.

"Dude, shut up." Nino hissed. "I can sign you up for a class down at the police station. Or I can teach you myself if it makes you more comfortable."

"I'm free on Saturday afternoons," said Marinette, sounding a little more resolved.

"What about..." Nino began.

"I'll look after her extra little detail," Alya cut in.

"Ok, then. We can start this Saturday if you'd like."

The conversation didn't drag on much longer after that. After hammering out the details, Alya hung up the phone and tilted her head down to Marinette.

"So, does this mean..."

"Yeah." Marinette closed her eyes and sucked in a hard breath. "I'll give him a second chance."

"Are you going to tell him about Isabelle?"

She expelled the breath through her nose. "I don't know yet. One step at a time."

0000

Adrien paced nervously in the hall.

Maybe this wasn't such a great idea.

He pulled his phone out and checked the time, then checked his messages. Pocketing the device again, he spared a look at the humble bouquet of roses in the death grip of his left hand

His mind wandered back to Marinette's self-defense class with Nino a few days ago.

It had been the first session, and Adrien had hesitantly tagged along because he had to stay where Nino could keep tabs on him. What a beautiful mess that had turned into.

He'd spent the first half of the class waiting in the hall outside of the training room at the police department watching Nino teach Marinette different self-defense maneuvers. He thought he'd kept the longing hidden from his expression, but the passing officers started to give him odd looks after about twenty minutes. Perhaps they had recognized him? They couldn't possibly have seen his tracking anklet, hidden by a baggy pant-leg.

Maybe if he hid his face? But it didn't alleviate any of the scrutiny when he pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. If anything, it made the amount of attention he received grow.

Halfway through the session, he'd snuck into the training room and attempted to sit on a chair against the wall.

That was when things had gotten messy.

She'd known he was in the building. He'd seen her reaction to his presence, the way she had fidgeted and looked around when she'd first shown up for the class. But being in the same room, it was as if he were a vacuum sucking up all her attention.

He'd caught her eye and she'd looked away, blushing like a virgin.

Adrien had watched them continue the lesson, but it had soon become clear Marinette wasn't giving it her full attention anymore. They'd continued to catch stares throughout the rest of the lesson, much to Nino's annoyance.

Even when he'd tried to focus on his cell phone and stop himself from watching them, he could feel her stare, tempting him to watch her shamelessly through his peripheral. And damn if she hadn't been making his blood rush and his heart sing. He'd had a feeling there was color staining his own cheeks.

Ten more distracted minutes passed before Nino had finally given up.

"That's enough," Nino had said after Marinette's third failed block left her lying on the mat. "We're done here."

"What? Why?" Marinette had scrambled to her feet, confusion etched across her features as she'd glanced at the clock on the wall. "We still have fifteen more minutes."

"And you're not paying attention," Nino had snapped, frowning at his pupil. "Which, actually, I want Adrien here from now on — you need to learn to focus, Marinette. You have too much riding on this to fail."

Marinette had flinched, leaving Adrien to wonder at the motion. Nino's features had softened as he blew out a gusty sigh.

"Look," he'd said, relaxing, "you're distracted and I understand it. But we're going to have to learn to work past it. That's all. We're about done for the day, and I'm tired and worn out, so if you guys are just gonna make out across the room with your eyes, I'm getting a coffee."

"Wh-What? I'm not, we weren't!" Marinette had sputtered out, her freckles becoming lost in a brilliant wash of crimson.

Nino had given her a wry smirk, brow shooting up above his glasses. "Uh-huh."

She'd puffed out her cheeks indignantly, casting a heated look at the padded mat on the floor.

Nino had leaned in to whisper something that Adrien had not been able to hear, but it'd clearly sent Marinette into a tizzy.

The agent had left them alone after that, exiting the training room through the side door.

Adrien hadn't been sure what Nino said, or if it even had anything to do with what he'd said to Marinette, but three minutes later she'd approached him, eyes glued to the floor and skin glowing like a radioactive tomato.

"Do you—uh—want to-to get coffee with me?"

Adrien had felt his chest compress painfully, throat tightening.

"I—yes," he'd wheezed out.

Back to the present, Adrien stared nervously at the number on her apartment door.

You're not asking her on a date, you're just stopping by to see her after work. ...and give her eight roses, and a pair of earrings. Adrien swallowed nervously. No, not the earrings. Wait on the earrings. That's too much.

He briefly pondered where all his Chat Noir confidence had evaporated to in the past two years, and how it got replaced with this nervous wreck.

Adrien steeled himself and, raising a hand, he knocked against her door.

The sound of shuffling inside her apartment caused his insides to squirm in anticipation.

When the door opened, the person behind it was not who he expected. A male with a dark, round face and familiar green eyes greeted him.

"Plagg?"

"Well, well, well," a smug grin crossed Plagg's face. "Look who it is. I'd heard you got out of prison."

"What are you doing... here?" Adrien's brow immediately furrowed in confusion.

Something moved about level with Plagg's knee and Adrien glanced down to find a tiny hand grabbing the edge of the door and another pair of green eyes peering up at him. These eyes were wide, curious, and bright like spring grass.

"Hi," said a small voice.

Adrien blinked several times.

"I'm babysitting," Plagg explained, opening the door the rest of the way. He nodded an invitation, then bent and picked up the baby that was clinging to his pant-leg.

No longer obscured by Plagg's leg, Adrien got his first good look at the baby. He came to the assumption that she was older than a year; Adrien had worked with some children on shoots before, but wasn't familiar enough with them to accurately guess. But she already had an unruly mop of delicate blonde hair, and a smattering of fine freckles across her button nose and rosy cheeks.

"You coming inside or not?" Plagg asked over his shoulder, disappearing from the entry and into the living room.

As if suddenly remembering he had legs, Adrien lurched forward with wooden movements, shutting the door behind himself. He placed the bouquet of roses on the stand with the house phone, next to the bowl for Marinette's keys.

Inside the apartment, he noted it was messier than he remembered with a myriad of toys scattered across the carpet and a sippy cup lying on its side on the couch. He recognized Marinette's lumpy, old ottoman, looking even more worse for wear than the last time he'd seen it.

Plagg placed the little girl on the floor and stood in the middle of the room looking at Adrien as if he expected him to say something.

The child got up and toddled across the floor towards Adrien, her curious eyes sparkling. His muscles tensed involuntarily when she latched onto his leg for balance and looked up at him.

"Whose kid is this?" Adrien finally forced out the words. He couldn't help asking, even though he had a sinking feeling that it was Marinette's. And if it was Marinette's that meant she'd... with someone...

"Oh," Plagg began in an offhand way, "she's mine."

Adrien snapped his eyes to his former partner, brow stitching with skepticism. "She's blonde, and pale as milk." He made a show of looking Plagg over, pointedly staring at his dark skin and oily black hair.

"And you're being purposefully obtuse," Plagg snipped.

He snapped his eyes back to the child hugging his leg.

"She's not a monster, Adrien. Pick her up."

As if someone had replaced his skeleton with robot parts, he bent and picked the toddler off the floor. A hand under each of her arms, he lifted her to eye level.

"Hi," she greeted him again in a small but high voice.

"Hello..?" Adrien returned, studying her with equally wide eyes. He felt his insides twist, as the surreal feeling gave way to hesitant comprehension. "Is she..."

The front door suddenly opened, and if it weren't for his excellent reflexes, Adrien would've dropped the child. He spun around to face the newcomer in the apartment, and froze with an expression akin to a deer in the headlamps.

"I'm home," Marinette sang, dropping her keys in the bowl next to the roses and raising her eyes just as she started to kick off her heels.

Adrien watched her stop dead in her tracks, the color draining from her face when she locked eyes with him. Feeling like an alien parasite, his heart lurched and crawled up his throat.

It was agony to swallow.

For an eternity they stared at each other.

"Mama!" the toddler suddenly cried and started squirming in his grip. Finally, Adrien moved, breaking eye contact to place the child on the floor, and watched her toddle towards Marinette on stubby, little legs.

Well that confirmed one of his suspicions.

"You have a kid," he stated, feeling as if someone had force-fed him the Sahara .

As if the toddler colliding with her legs broke the spell that had befallen her, Marinette inhaled and bent, scooping her kid off the floor. She placed a kiss on her cheek, and smiled to reassure the excited child that everything was alright.

Adrien stayed rooted in place when she finished kicking off her shoes and moved to join them in the living room. He chanced a glance at Plagg who was strangely quiet. The man simply watched them both with an enigmatic expression.

"Is that a problem?" She asked, her voice holding an unusual chill.

"No!" Adrien asserted, "not at all. She's... ahh, she's adorable." His fingers scratched nervously at the nape of his neck.

As fickle as a cat, the toddler began squirming again, twisting around in Marinette's arms with her hands outstretched for her toys. Once more she was placed on the floor, this time crawling over the carpet to pick up a vibrantly colored dinosaur.

Adrien chose to fix his attention on the happy child rather than brave the severity of Marinette's gaze.

"How old is she?"

Marinette hugged her arms to her chest and turned her eyes to the toddler who was making her way back to Adrien with a bright blue t-rex. "She's nineteen months."

Adrien mulled over some calculations in his head, and pressed his mouth into a tight line.

"Hi," the little girl gushed again, grinning with little, white teeth.

He looked down to find her holding the dinosaur up.

A second of hesitation and Adrien dropped to his knees casting, a wary look at Marinette in case she started to protest. When she only watched him with an unreadable expression, he turned his attention back to the toddler.

"Hi," he greeted again with an equally white smile. "Is this for me?"

She pushed the blue dinosaur into his hand, her already wide grin getting bigger before she suddenly made a "pffffffsshhhh!" noise and bashfully ran away.

Adrien was left blinking curiously.

She didn't leave him hanging for long, returning a moment later with a red block and holding that out to him as well.

"Thank you," he accepted the block and turned it over in his hand. "What's your name?"

Once more, the little girl erupted into bashfulness and ran off, scooping a stuffed animal off the floor next. She toddled back up to him, this time proudly presenting him a fuzzy, black cat stuffy.

It was like someone hit him over the head with a hammer and Adrien sat back on his feet. He stared dazedly at the black cat, noting the oversized bell hanging off it's neck.

"Kitty!" She told him emphatically, pushing the animal into his already occupied hands.

"Yeah..." Adrien licked his chapped lips. He placed the dinosaur and the block in his lap to hold the cat stuffy, his thumbs running over the embroidered green eyes.

"Her name is Isabelle."

He tilted his head up to meet Marinette's eyes.

Isabelle, his mind slowly processed the name. Is-a-belle. Blood rushed in his ears and his heart began using his lungs for punching bags. His face may have been frozen, but his mind curled into a cattish grin.

His hands hit his lap like someone had filled them with lead.

"Is..." he started, his voice cracking as he spoke. "Is she mine?" He finally voiced the question that had been growing ever stronger in the back of his mind.

For a moment, Marinette studied him with searching eyes. He watched her bite the inside of her cheek as if she were having an internal debate about whether or not to answer him.

Hope dared to fester in his frantically hammering heart.

Another minute passed and Marinette's eyes became glassy. She hugged her arms tighter and nodded.

Yes.

Muscles in his back that he didn't even know were tensed suddenly released.

I have a daughter.

Adrien turned his stare back to the little girl who had gotten bored of him and had wandered over to Plagg for attention.

I have a daughter...

Her blonde hair and bright green eyes were another punch to his lungs.

Why didn't anyone tell him?

Hah! Because you're a criminal and you spent the last two years in prison. What kind of father would you have been? Memories of his own neglectful father permeated his mind.

Father. The same man who'd ordered the attack on Marinette those years ago.

"This is why I shouldn't be here," he blurted out. His insides recoiled with the sudden realization. "I'm putting her in danger."

Adrien surged to his feet, but staggered when dizziness hit him.

"Wait!"

Her voice seized him, but he didn't look at her.

"Please don't go."

Adrien lifted his head.

Marinette continued and the expression on her face startled him. It was imploring. "Please stay, Chat."

Adrien's heart clawed at his throat. He wanted to stay, but staying put Marinette's daughter—HIS daughter—in even more danger. He opened his mouth to respond, but the words caught in his throat; some desperate cross of 'I can't stay' and 'I'll never leave you again' that only resulted in a breathy whine as conflicting desires warred for dominance.

The sound of a throat clearing had both his and Marinette's head whipping around to where Plagg stood off to the side, looking vaguely amused. "As fascinating as this conversation promises to be, I don't think I have a place in it. Marinette, same time tomorrow?"

"Oh. Um, yes," Marinette replied blinking owlishly as Félix nodded genially to Adrien.

"Hold up, Plagg." Adrien placed a hand on his shoulder before the older man could escape. "We need to talk—about this," he gestured around the apartment before ending on Isabelle, "and some other things. What number can I reach you?"

"Plagg?"

"And get me roped up with Interpol like you?" Plagg scoffed. "Eww, no."

"I've never mentioned you to Interpol," Adrien defended. "They suspect I had a partner, but relax, you aren't even a blip on their radar. I kept my mouth shut."

"You're his partner!?" Marinette screeched at Félix.

Both men turned to blink at her; Adrien with surprise and Plagg with a slow cat-like deliberateness.

"You didn't know?" Adrien finally asked.

Marinette staggered back to the couch and collapsed on it.

"Well the cat's out of the bag," said Plagg. "I think it's time I make my get away." He slipped out the door after dropping a kiss atop Isabelle's head.

Adrien eyed the door as well, gaze darting between it and the overwhelmed Marinette on the couch. "I should go too," he reminded her.

"Chat," Her use of his alias held him in place.

He stayed silent, watching Marinette for a moment before turning his attention to Isabelle.

"I shouldn't," Adrien said at last, unable to tear his eyes from the tiny child as she tried to climb the couch, tiny limbs stretching to reach the necessary height. "I'm putting her in danger. If not now, then eventually."

"Yes," Marinette agreed softly, sounding heartbroken. "Even if your father isn't watching you now, he will be soon. If he finds out..."

"She'll be an easy target," Adrien said flatly. "The perfect leverage to use against me. Against us."

"Yes." Marinette blinked back tears, biting her lip. "But... But, not...quite yet. He's not watching you now, tonight. And...the secret's out. You can't unknow what you know. So...will you stay? Just for a little while? I can make some coffee, you can eat dinner here with us."

"Why the change of heart?" Adrien asked, wrenching his gaze from the toddler to fasten it on Marinette. "I would have thought you'd want me to have nothing to do with her."

"I've wanted to tell you about her for so long, Chat," she said, sobering up from her previous shock and sitting forward. "But I had to be sure."

"Sure?" He cocked his head at her and took a seat on the arm of the couch.

She clasped her hands together, watching her daughter rather than looking at him. "I needed to be sure about you. I... if you ever came back, I wanted you to come back because you wanted to. ...because you love me. Not because you felt obligated, or guilty."

His stomach curled in pain. "Mari-"

Marinette cut him off and pressed on. "She's well cared for, and we want for nothing. She doesn't need a father in her life if he only sees her as an obligation." Her knuckles turned white from the tight grip of her hands. "When I learned your father still posed a threat... it complicated things even more. But, you know now and the best we can do is work together to keep her safe."

Adrien got up from the arm of the couch and moved to kneel before Marinette. He reached out and took her trembling hands in his own, massaging her stressed knuckles.

"Mon Amour, I want to be a part of this family. I want this. I want all of this, if you'll let me."

Marinette suddenly let out a choked sob and he saw the tears start streaming down her cheeks when she lifted her face to meet his eyes. Her lip trembled, and the urge to kiss away all those tears nearly overwhelmed him.

"I love you, Chat."

The clink of plastic toys clashing against each other and the patter of toddler feet on carpeted floors acted as the background music to the moment.

"I have always loved you, Purrincess." He replied, rolling the r's the way he used to years ago.

Adrien released her hands, reaching up and pulling her chin toward him with two fingers. His mouth closed over hers, pressing a tender kiss to her lips and Marinette made a pleased little sound against him.

Much like she had the first time he'd kissed her, Marinette melted into him. Her arms came up to slide around his neck eagerly. Adrien responded with a rough growl and hungrily took the kiss deeper. He could no more temper his instant, fiery response to her than he could voluntarily stop the frantic hammering of his heart.

Adrien hadn't planned for this when he came to her apartment tonight—but then his plans never seemed to turn out the way he intended where she was concerned. She had a knack for derailing all his best laid plans and rending his good intentions to dust.

Something in the back of his mind noted that the couch had depressed oddly, but then he forgot to think at all because she was warm and responsive and he had wanted to kiss her like this for a long, long time.

A sudden, tiny, sticky hand shoved into the side of Adrien's face, breaking the kiss, and he turned to blink startlingly at a toddler.

"Mine!" Isabelle declared, jealously pressing in to kiss her mother's lips.

Marinette's own surprise soon melted into amusement as she placed a peck on her daughter's mouth. "Mmm, yes yours," she hummed with a smile. "Sorry, Chat, it seems I've already been spoken for."

"Drat," he chuckled, sitting back on his feet and putting some space between them.

She pulled the needy toddler into her lap and turned her to face Adrien. "Isa, this is your Papa."

Adrien felt his heart seize. Papa. He rather liked the sound of that. So much warmer than Father.

The little girl blinked at him, not quite comprehending the significance of the word. But she took a swipe at Adrien's nose and giggled.

He caught her tiny hand in his much larger one and placed a dramatic kiss on the back of it. "It's a purrleasure to meet you, Little Bell."